After establishing chapters in 12 different cities and towns since its inception in 2018, Protect Our Winters (POW) Canada shredded into new territory last month: Parliament Hill.
“Getting a seat at the table, I think, is the toughest thing, but once you open those lines of communication you have a much greater ability to effect change,” said Mike Douglas.
The Whistlerite was one of five representatives from the not-for-profit organization—which aims to turn outdoor enthusiasts into climate advocates pushing for policy solutions—who travelled to Ottawa for a Climate Change and Sport Summit two years in the making.
As chair of POW’s board of directors, Douglas attended the summit alongside POW Canada executive director Ali Wines, climate scientist and board member Daniel Scott, campaign coordinator Emilie Grenier and ambassador Alannah Yip, a professional climber. The summit was organized by MP Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic gold medal-winning sprint kayaker who currently serves as parliamentary secretary to both the Minister of Health and Minister of Sport.
“We were supposed to originally go to Ottawa in April 2020. But obviously with COVID and all that we had a two-year delay, so finally Adam pulled it together,” Douglas explained. The event coincided with Earth Day, a time when “climate and the environment is already top of mind for everybody,” added Wines.
The summit saw POW Canada’s team meet with Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, alongside a few other sport groups and stakeholders. While the ministers were looking for POW’s input on the government’s new Emissions Reduction Plan, the climate advocates also wanted to introduce summit participants to POW, its goals and its mission.
It was “a really, really positive experience” overall, said Wines.
“I really felt that [the ministers] were excited to hear about POW and our work and enthusiastic to learn more about us. I felt that they really heard us and that we’re aligned in wanting the same things: for Canada to meet its obligations under the Paris commitments and to deliver on the new emission reduction plan that was just released,” she explained.
“I left feeling really good that there are genuinely very passionate people in Parliament who want to make a difference and, you know, probably like the rest of us, wish that things would move a little faster and that the wheels would be easier to turn, but also that they’re really looking for non-profit organizations like POW to help them to do that; to contribute the information that they need … to really push for those changes.”
What POW’s representatives were focused on, added Wines, was helping the ministers understand “the sheer size and weight of the outdoor industry in Canada.” With nearly 70 per cent of Canadians reporting participating in at least one outdoor or wilderness activity, according to 2018 data from Statistics Canada, it’s clear “this is such a hugely outdoorsy country, and it’s full of passionate people who love these natural spaces and want to protect them,” she said.
The meeting marked a major milestone for the organization, said Douglas, who has been part of POW Canada since its inception. Better known in some circles as the godfather of freeskiing, Douglas was an ambassador for POW in the U.S. before deciding to help launch a Canadian version of the climate advocacy group four years ago.
“One of the things that always impressed me about POW in the U.S. was their ability to make waves in a bigger way and the trips that they were making to Washington D.C.,” he said. “To me it showed that they were being listened to and they had a chance of being effective. So we set those kinds of goals here in Canada pretty early on that that’s where we wanted to get to, to try and make a big change. To finally get there was huge.”
While earning a seat at that table might have opened the streams of communication for POW and its 23,000 members, Douglas said the organization still needs the community’s help in order to spark the kind of climate action it advocates for.
“The message that came back to us from the ministers was, ‘We want to do the same things that you want to do,’” he said. “Having been in there with the politicians, they just want the numbers so that they can do the right thing. Honestly, it’s not much more complicated than that. If we had a million members, I can tell you, we could go in there and change things right away. Membership is key.”