Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
I discovered a letter from the Office of the Prime Minister of 1970 in an old cardboard “memory box” in our basement.
I remember the circumstances of the original correspondence well. At 11 years old I was just starting to form indignant opinions about polluters and a passion for environmental causes. One fall evening, as our family returned home to Vancouver on Highway 99 alongside Howe Sound, the air was foggy and heavy with the pungent aroma of a pulp mill. My dad pointed out the source of the smog and smell, Woodfibre mill, across the water. As I launched into a tirade against industrial polluters, my dad squelched my commentary by chiding, “Why don’t you write to the prime minister?” So I did.
Your father’s secretary, Henry Lawless (a great name), wrote me back, and included several excerpts from speeches that Prime Minister Trudeau had given on environmental issues and pollution. The language was a bit beyond my comprehension at the time, but I understood enough to gather that this was an important issue and that our government was on top of it. I was impressed, and considered becoming prime minister some day.
Reading Pierre Trudeau’s remarks today, I’m struck by his foresight on issues like protection of fragile Arctic landscapes, and the capability of humans to push our species and others into extinction. While speaking of the Arctic, he said, “We do not doubt for a moment that the rest of the world would find us at fault, and hold us liable, should we fail to ensure adequate protection of that environment from pollution or artificial deterioration.” His words can apply to any number of instances today where Canada faces derision for pursuing destructive pathways for short term economic gain.
Your father also speaks of the danger of appearing “to live by a double standard. We cannot at the same time that we are urging other countries to adhere to regimes designed for the orderly conduct of international activities, pursue policies inconsistent with that order simply because to do so in a given instance appears to be to our brief advantage.” Did he foresee the pipeline debate?
In these days of incivility in the House and press conferences with controlled messages, the eloquence of your father’s remarks is refreshing. I especially like his reference to environmental protection as “an act of sanity in an increasingly irresponsible world.”
A great deal of time has passed since I wrote my letter and received one back. I am more passionate than ever about the imperative of protecting ecosystems and pursuing environmentally sustainable pathways. I’m fortunate that in my role as a geography instructor at Capilano University in North Vancouver I can speak daily about the crises that we need to quickly address, most notably climate change.
But in addition to education, we need strong leaders, who (in the words of the PM in 1969) “will not barter a clean and wholesome environment for industrial or commercial growth and call it progress.” My 11-year-old self would never have believed that 50 years later our governments would be continuing to prop up the extraction and export of fossil fuels, rather than leaping to embrace the green future that awaited us.
I wish you all the best on the road ahead. It’s a daunting task to inspire people with long-term visions of what is possible. But please be bold — we need to know that your vision for our country recognizes the ecological consequences and dubious economic benefits of a bitumen pipeline, and will ultimately stand for Canada’s commitments to combat climate change.
BTW: My early aspirations to be prime minister disappeared.