Even if it were the last election on Earth (Day): politicians ignore the environment, but do Canadians?

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With Facebook and Twitter alight with news and people’s voices on the impending election, and the media reporting every last controversy it can uncover, Canadians across the country still complain that the real issues are not being tackled.   But at least one issue in this campaign has its own day.

Ten days before the election, on April 22, Earth Day gives Canadians and people around the world the chance to focus on the environment.   But the question is: does anyone really care?

If you follow the election campaign, the answer would be no.   The funny thing is that back in 1970, it was a Wisconsin politician, Gaylord Nelson, who started Earth Day.   But even though our leaders aren’t talking about it, get back to reality and you’ll find the environment is front and centre.   Start at the computer.   Earth Day was trending on Twitter in Canada hours before the Montreal-Boston game took over the Twitterwaves on April 21.

People were talking about what they’re going to do for the planet’s day: bringing along a reusable mug, buying eco-jewellery, cleaning up the neighbourhood, even voting for the Earth in the election (advance polls open April 22 across Canada).   And that’s what Earth Day is really about: taking action to recognize and raise awareness about the value of the natural environment.

In Montreal, events of all kinds are planned.   On the island’s south shore the Salon Eco-Jeunes reaches out to parents with school-age kids to come out and participate in educational activities on the environment.   And downtown a workshop on local food aims to show people how to become ‘locavores’ with a trip to the grocery store and tips on how to grow food in the city.

A sunny day in the forecast will also bring out the thousands of eager users of the popular Bixi bike sharing service that opened for the season only a week before.   The service has spread its zero-emission active transport trend to cities around the world like London, Melbourne, Washington D.C. and Minneapolis.

Earlier this month, Quebec made another commitment to the environment with a pledge of $95 million over the next 10 years to develop the electric car industry in the province.   It makes sense for a major hydro-electric producer like Quebec to get into electrics and the government has also created financial incentives for residents to buy hybrids, electric vehicles and set up charging stations at home.

So, what’s the answer? With Earth Day upon us, do Canadians really care about the environment? Last Sunday, Canada’s only national call-in radio show, CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, aired from small-town Ontario.   Residents of Port Perry, guests and the local election candidates discussed the issues important to them while Canada listened, called in and emailed.

One email from a fellow in Halifax summed up the views expressed that day. “Listening to today’s show, and people clapping when a candidate talks about what they will do for the farmers, the environment, providing good drinking water,” wrote Lawrence McEachern, “I am saddened to let them know that unless the leader of the party supports farmers, the environment, providing good drinking water, then nothing will happen. Our system does not support grass roots issues.”

But even though the federal leaders haven’t been talking much about the health of the Earth, Canadians can be encouraged by a recent survey done by four major environmental advocacy groups.   Environmental Defence, Equiterre, CPAWS and the Pembina Institute asked the parties to set out their position on 10 environmental issues at play in Canada.   Aside from the non-respondent Conservatives, the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and the Greens made strong commitments to seriously address climate change, implement renewable energy solutions, get the tar sands under control and regulate toxic chemicals in consumer products.

Earth Day began as way to take action to raise awareness.   Even though federal leaders may not be talking about it much, the environment is important to Canadians.   And even without overwhelming fanfare this April 22, more than merely raising awareness, Earth Day can rightly be seen as a celebration that the environment is an issue that people care about and that’s here to stay.

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