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Changing Laws (And Keeping Them Changed)

By Matthew Chapman

· Hub members' stories,General

Those working to protect the environment walk an emotional tightrope between despair and indifference. Despair at our failure to change fast enough to prevent ecological catastrophe; indifference in spite of the overwhelming evidence. If no one else seems to care, why should I?

Between despair and indifference is the balancing act of advocacy. Maintaining hope while never losing sight of the urgency that drives us to press on.

Many focus on acting in their immediate surroundings by changing their own habits and influencing family members, neighbours and colleagues to make more sustainable choices. Others focus on changing the laws that govern those choices.

A recent guide published by the Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) will be of interest to those in the latter camp, and to any Canadian who wants to better understand how laws are made and changed. The 2018 Lobbying Guide outlines rules and regulations for lobbying at the federal level and provides suggestions for maximizing impact.

The guide addresses common questions regarding who is required to register as a lobbyist (you might be surprised!), the definition of political activity for registered charities and best practices for booking and running meetings with members of parliament.

Unfortunately, it does not provide insight into the messy details of how provincial and municipal lobbying rules differ from the 1985 federal Lobbying Act. Before applying CAN-Rac’s recommendations with a local or provincial politician, you’re best to consult a lawyer who is familiar with your specific context.

An element that the guide could have addressed is the importance of making sure politicians understand who you represent. Has your organization done the grassroots work to build support for the solutions you are proposing? If the solutions cannot be easily supported by a significant number of voters, their chance of implementation is slim.

Changing laws is difficult, and keeping them changed can be even more challenging. Politicians who pass legislation without public support risk leaving few laws which stand the test of time. Recent examples spring to mind of legislative breakthroughs that have been overturned or watered down soon after being written into law: Australia’s carbon tax; Ontario’s pending withdrawal from the Western Climate Initiative’s cap-and-trade program; and the United States’ infamous announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

In order for policy to survive political swings, there needs to be a hundred times as many individuals acting in their families, communities and workplaces as there are meeting to lobby elected officials. Those actions will anchor solutions in broad-based support and the relationships forged in taking collective action help balance those who are determined to dance on the tightrope between despair and indifference.

Get active in a Community Climate Hub near you to build the grassroots support necessary for transformational change.

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Matthew thrives on change and couldn’t be happier that climate science requires our global economy to undergo a metamorphosis of Herculean proportions. Realizing from a young age on the streets of Scarborough that life’s not fair - and never content taking ‘meh’ for an answer - he helped found the Montréal Climate Coalition in 2014 after completing an MBA at HEC Montréal. He joined the Climate Reality team two years later and is proud to be coordinating the Climate Hub initiative and supporting the passion and ingenuity of the citizens that are at the heart of this great transition.

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