The First United Church in Swift Current has been reaching out to political leaders to talk about climate change and the actions needed to address this global emergency.
The church started this initiative after some members of the congregation participated in a study of the book A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency by public policy researcher Seth Klein.
Congregation members already had meetings with Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal and Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer, and they are also scheduled to meet with Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley.
The church provided a copy of Klein’s book to Bridal and Hindley. Patzer had already received a copy of this book through another initiative by Mary Jane Philp, a resident of Kingston, Ontario, who purchased copies of this book to all elected members of Parliament.
The First United Church also sent copies of this book to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Minister of Environment Warren Kaeding, Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili, and the Saskatchewan Liberal Party.
In addition, the church sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet.
Congregation members Dixie Green and Peggy Worrell had a meeting with Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal on May 27 and they will also meet with Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley.
Worrell said congregation members were motivated to act after they read Klein’s book, but they felt the initiative should be wider than just the book study members.
“We thought we should take some action and not just read it and discuss it among ourselves,” she mentioned. “And so we took the idea to our church council, which is the governing body of First United Church. We took the idea of purchasing books, not for the federal politicians, because they already had copies, but for the provincial leaders and the mayor, along with letters accompany the books, and letters to the federal politicians.”
The suggestion was approved by the church council, and congregation members then moved forward with the process. This action fits in with a broader national initiative, For the Love of Creation, that has been endorsed by the United Church of Canada.
“It's a two-year coalition of 35 churches and faith-based organizations,” she explained. “The purpose of that campaign is to educate, reflect, act and advocate for climate justice. So the steps we've taken are within the context of the United Church of Canada as well as these other partner churches. The position of the United Church of Canada is that we need to be part of a just transition to a renewable energy economy and to do that by lobbying governments and industries.”
Green joined the group studying Klein’s book after she heard him speak last year as a guest speaker at the National Farmers Union’s virtual convention.
“I'm very intrigued on the initiative that is growing across Canada as a result of people reading the book and having new hope and new direction on what to do about their concerns for this large issue we're facing,” she said.
Klein uses the example of Canada’s response during the Second World War as a template for the way the country should approach the existential threat caused by climate change. He argues that a response similar to a wartime approach is required to address the climate emergency.
“Seth Klein has been in contact with us as well, saying he commends our efforts and wants to know how it goes, and is directing us to information sites that tell us of other initiatives that are happening,” Green said.
Two other congregation members already met with Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer and they felt positive about the discussion.
“They had a very productive and amicable meeting with him,” Worrell said.
Green and Worrell felt the discussion with Mayor Al Bridal was also positive. Green appreciated the mayor’s willingness to meet with them.
“I would say we had a health exchange of ideas.” Worrell added. “He was very open to all of our suggestions. We had a robust discussion about many different things. He spent and hour with us, and I was very satisfied with the meeting.”
Their discussion covered a wide area, including current City initiatives to promote sustainable living such as the new master plan for recreation, parks and culture, the scenic Chinook Parkway, the yard waste collection program, the household hazardous waste collection program, and the wastewater treatment plant to keep effluent out of the Swift Current Creek.
“We did highlight many of the progressive things that are happening in Swift Current, and the fact that there doesn't seem to be a lot of publicity about all of that,” Worrell said. “It's things that we've noticed, which are all really positive, and we wondered too if there could be some type of recognition for other individuals or businesses or organizations that are taking some action that is exemplary and he agreed with that.”
They also referred to various initiatives by other local authorities across Canada to respond to climate change, for example the City of Regina made a commitment to move to 100 per cent renewable energy sources by 2050 and the town of Raymond in Alberta initiated a project to install solar panels on public buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Of course, we're cognizant of the cost factor, whether it's federal, provincial or municipal government,” Worrell noted. “The only source of revenue is tax payers. So City council has to be conscious of what will it cost, what will it save, how long will it take, and then I guess the other dimension of that is the fact that it will be the right thing to do from an environmental perspective.”
Green felt a certain highlight of their discussion with Swift Current’s mayor was his commitment to present the idea of an advisory body on climate change to other council members and administration at a future meeting of the Governance and Priorities Committee.
“Then it's not the mayor or one councillor or two councillors bringing forward progressive ideas,” she said about the purpose of an advisory body. “It comes from a body that is studying the issue and looking at ways to apply change to the way the City does business.”
Bridal told the Prairie Post it was a productive meeting with the two representatives of the First United Church congregation.
“I think it was a useful meeting,” he said. “Some citizens in our community are very concerned about climate change and I'm very concerned about climate change. … I told them about many things the City is doing that's very environmentally friendly. They want the City to take a strong stance and I was very clear about the City's responsibilities for roads, streets, sewers, parks, cemeteries, recreational facilities. Our responsibilities are not for health and welfare and social. Those are federal and provincial responsibilities and I am not going to take our tax dollars into that.”
He also indicated to them that he disagrees with key premises of Klein’s book, for example in relation to the jurisdiction of different levels of government.
“The book they presented me is in my eyes a very radical book and I do not agree with the author,” he said. “I read several chapters and I told both ladies that were here that I did not agree with them, and I just didn't. This author, Seth Klein, is very radical, and he thinks the federal government should take over provincial responsibilities and make it like the War Measures Act in the Second World War and just make us do things and take the powers away from the province, and I would never vote for that.”
Bridal referred to several City initiatives during the discussion, for example the recycling of concrete for use as road aggregate and the yard waste recycling program to make compost. He is also a strong proponent of the re-use of old buildings instead of simply demolishing structures. While he is in the construction business, he appreciates the carbon intensive impact of new construction, and he also referred to the carbon footprint of shopping and the impact of discarded items ending up in landfills.
“Between concrete and fashion, we're sitting at a quarter of all the carbon footprint of the world from those two things alone and when you start building new foundations and pouring new foundations you're putting a bunch of carbon in the air,” he said. “I'm a builder and I don't want to trash building, because I like building, but as a City we have to take a serious look at things like that.”
He believes the City needs to be very cognizant of climate change, but he does not see the need for a policy such as a net-zero emissions goal.
“What makes something happen is people doing it, not writing and talking about it, and the City of Swift Current right now, we are doing it,” he said.
He will be presenting the idea of a committee on climate change to an upcoming meeting of the City’s Governance and Priorities Committee for discussion.
“I told them that we're quite busy with the committees that we're on,” he said. “Almost everyone on council sits on three or four committees plus we have council. … So we're quite busy, and the idea of having a committee on climate change, should it be the City's responsibility. I'm not sure. I think that everything we do we should be taking a serious look at why and how we're doing it.”