5 Canadian Environmental Leaders You Should Know

There are a number of Canadians whose advocacy for environmental issues should make us proud. Many activists, authors and public servants who work tirelessly to protect the earth call Canada home. Here are 5 Canadian Environmental Leader You Should Know.

These men and women all perform crucial work: some fight for legal reforms and policy shifts and others ask us to shift our perspective, to see the ways in which certain communities are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. Together they help make Canada great.

Let us take a moment to honour five of our homegrown environmental leaders.

#1 Sheila Watt-Cloutier

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Sheila Watt-Cloutier has spent most of her life working in the service of indigenous peoples in Canada. Over the years she’s taken on various positions, including working as an Inuktitut interpreter at Ungava Hospital and as a counsellor at Jaanimmarik School in northern Quebec. She’s also played an integral role as an environmental advocate, fighting to make climate change and its effects on indigenous communities and her fellow Inuit people, in particular, a national priority.

Through her work with the Inuit Circumpolar Council and in her memoir The Right to be Cold, Watt-Cloutier has argued persuasively that climate change is fundamentally a human rights issue. In a recent piece for National Observer, she contends that indigenous people are uniquely positioned to lead the way forward in addressing climate change: “Inuit and Indigenous peoples provided life-saving guidance to early European visitors unfamiliar with the severe conditions of this land which they ignored at their peril,” she writes. “It is time to rely on us for guidance as we are well-placed to explain in deeply human terms the climate crisis at our doorstep.”

#2 Dale Marshall

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Dale Marshall is the National Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada and Vice-Chair of Climate Action Network Canada. He’s also a compelling writer who is adept at explaining both the science and legality of various environmental issues in simple, common-sense language. He’s written extensively for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and contributed to sites like The Narwhal and The Huffington Post as well.

In addition, he has appeared in front of parliamentary committees to argue in favour of various environmental policies, most recently to deliver a full-throated defence of the greenhouse gas pollution pricing act. He closed his testimony by stating plainly, “Over the last decade, maybe even a generation, the history of Canada has been that we have increasingly understood the perils of climate change, yet we've done nothing about it. I certainly hope that the next decade isn't written by those who will favour polluters over the public good.”

#3 Dianne Saxe

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For years, Environmental Commissioners have played a vital role in Ontario as non-partisan watchdogs. The Environmental Commissioner’s office releases reports to the public each year on the state of energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions in the province. They also issue so-called “special reports” on a wider range of topics, for instance, biodiversity and waste management, to keep Ontarians up to date on the challenges the province faces as well as areas where there is room to improve existing environmental protections.

As a highly-decorated environmental lawyer with 30-plus years’ experience, Dr. Dianne Saxe seemed to be an obvious fit for the position when she was appointed in 2015. Since her appointment, Saxe has proven herself to be an efficacious and sometimes fiery advocate for the environment. Her not infrequent critiques of Premier Doug Ford have even been referred to as “blistering” and “damning”  by members of the press.

Many people were therefore shocked when the Progressive Conservatives announced this past month that they were eliminating the Environmental Commissioner's office in order to “reduce unnecessary costs.” This move means that Saxe’s future is now uncertain. Wherever she goes from here, however, Ontarians undoubtedly owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her service.

#4 Jim Hoggan

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Jim Hoggan is a jack of all trades. He’s a former lawyer who was previously a board director for the David Suzuki Foundation and the chair of Climate Project Canada. He’s also a public relations expert and published author of three books, including Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.

Along with Brendan DeMelle, Hoggan co-founded the website DeSmogBlog in 2006. DeSmogBlog’s slogan is “Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” and the site’s many contributors dissect spin from companies and politicians with skillful precision, cutting through layers of misinformation and non-denial denials to reveal inconvenient truths. DeSmogBlog is an essential site to visit if you need assistance in navigating the sometimes vast gulf between the words and actions of corporate leaders and elected representatives on climate change.

#5 Melina Laboucan-Massimo

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Like Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Melina Laboucan-Massimo is an indigenous environmental activist who takes pains to highlight the human cost of climate change in her advocacy. A member of the Lubicon Lake Nation, she has been a longtime critic of the Alberta tar sands and fierce defender of the rights of First Nations communities.

In an article for Greenpeace she explained, “Albertans want to see change, and solar is [a] huge part of making that change happen but we need to demand this change. A just transition needs to happen not only in communities that can afford renewable technology but it must happen and begin in communities facing the brunt of the environmental, social, and health implications from the extractive industry and climate change.”

It was this belief that motivated her to take action in 2015 while working on her master’s degree in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. As part of her master’s thesis, she helped to bring a 20.8kW solar installation to the community of Little Buffalo, Alberta. This installation is used to power the local health centre and Laboucan-Massimo hopes that it will serve as inspiration to other First Nations communities who want to invest in renewable energy.

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