The Saskatoon Climate Hub has had an impressive year. After re-launching this January, the Hub has grown to have regular meetings, hosted events, collaborated with local organizations, and has been involved in a number of advocacy events on local council affairs.
Many Hubs advocate for their local councils to act on climate. Local advocacy can take many forms: protests, meetings with councillors, phone calls, letter writing, and more. However, it is easier said than done and starting from scratch can be daunting. Learning the best ways to engage your neighbours and then training them on how to participate in local advocacy takes time, skills, and experience.
We spoke to one of the Hub’s lead members, Jory Vermette, on the Hub’s recent letter writing campaign and the importance of following what’s happening on climate at the local level.
What made you start paying attention to your local council and the decisions they make?
Fundamentally it comes down to what change can be made that are material and tangible, changes that can have an effective and direct impact as possible. Saskatoon had a unique situation where the city is currently looking at their multi-year (2 year) budget and austerity and cuts were on the agenda. We felt a need to intervene and protect our climate funding and directly reach out to council via Zoom meetings, letter campaigns and speaking directly at budget discussions, so as to at least make our voices heard. To show and represent that climate change is the number one issue that should be at the top of municipalities of all sizes across the country.
Why did you choose letters as a means of connecting with your councillors?
Letters are one of many actions that activists and organizers can take. I personally believe that letters can be the first step in getting our neighbours and members of the community involved politically with a surprisingly little amount of commitment but with a representable impact (once the mystification of local politics is swept away). Letters offer anyone the chance to voice their thoughts, opinions, demands and needs to our elected representatives - who should be doing everything in their power to advocate for the climate action that is required. Letters also offer a chance for us to get together and share what we think is a powerful message - as we tried to do with our writing workshop.
Tell us about the letter writing event and the success of the campaign you had during summer 2023 around the municipal budget.
I think, since we are a relatively new Hub, that the writing event/workshop was successful in the degree that it brought in new faces and allowed us to share what we thought could be an effective municipal campaign. We tried to make the letter writing and submission process as easy as possible, providing instructions and templates to anyone who wanted to share. This culminated in the support of various organizations in the city and over 20 letters submitted by individuals to council on the matter. However, there is much to grow upon and learn, we need to be clear that for the next campaign we must mobilize more people, more letters, more speakers at council meetings. A groundswell of support is critical as, for better or for worse, money is the most critical component of most climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. I hope that the letters, speeches and action we take can show that we want these strategies funded, expanded and made ambitious to meet the necessity of the moment.
In some of your advice to writers, you’ve encouraged adding personal stories or anecdotes that relate to the issue at hand. Why do you think adding personal touches make effective letters?
I think we have all encountered the various emails we get in our inbox, asking to sign petitions or send a pre-made letter to an MP or MLA. These are valuable actions but they can lack the personal element involved that comes with dealing with the climate crisis. We advocated for a personal message or story because we believe that climate change has affected all of us to some degree or another. Whether it be smoke from wildfires, the intense and persistent heat, or flooding or fires in communities around us with loved ones we care about living within them, these are all examples of personal experiences that have impacted us. We also wanted to show council that people interact with the infrastructure, programs and services that are tied to mitigating climate change: whether it be alternative transit, our common and public spaces or renewable energy. Lastly, sharing your personal experience resonates further with members of council. There is more at stake when, as a councillor, the citizen of your ward explicitly says that the wildfire smoke caused their child to have asthma attacks or that they express frustration at the lack of transport options. The climate crisis can be portrayed often as calculations on a spreadsheet however the major element of the crisis is entirely human and we need to express that.
Why do you think municipal climate action, as opposed to provincial or federal climate action, is important?
First, I’d argue action at all levels is incredibly important - provincial, federal, and international action and solidarity. However, I am personally an advocate for starting at the local level, because for most of us this is where we work, play, learn and experience life everyday. This is where the most direct impact can be made, by working with members of our community, building relationships with them, and working together to achieve real material changes. I also believe that local and municipal action present us with the opportunity to build true communities of resilience, communities that can weather the storm and where we can depend on each other in times of need and action. Local and municipal action puts power in your hands at your front door - it lowers the abstraction of a real global crisis down to things that you can tangibly interact with. Whether it be planting a tree, joining a rally, speaking in a group during council meetings or getting together to strategize, we can eventually see these changes grow and evolve as we fight for them: a healthier more robust tree canopy, the implementation of ambitious climate projects or the reclamation of our common spaces. All of this, the tangible experiences, the relationships we build, and the eventual improvement of our communities, all starts at the local level.
What does your dream city consist of?
Great question and a very difficult one to answer. I could probably wax poetic and write endlessly about this but I will try and remain brief. I think the dream city would be one that first and foremost has reduced their emissions entirely to zero, that they have stopped the use of fossil fuels and replaced them with renewable and sustainable energy and production. Where common spaces are created, revitalized and maintained, where people can get fresh food and water without economic or environmental barriers or artificial scarcity. Where there is the right to housing for all that is provided and built with climate and ecology in mind, where labour and work does not dominate life but is a rewarding and invigorating part of it, where we can be within nature without dominating it. Where we can access all of these things freely and safely; where no one is left behind regardless of their race, gender, wealth or spiritual beliefs. Where we’ve reconciled with one another to build a future together. When I think of a dream city, I think of the potential we have as activists, organizers, warriors and defenders, and the strength and resilience we have by working collectively and in solidarity.
Jory is a Métis Climate and Environmental Activist residing in Saskatoon, SK on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis Nation.
Learn more about the Saskatoon Climate Hub by following their social media on Instagram (@saskatoonclimatehub) and on Youtube (/@SaskatoonClimateHub). Watch Jory speak on “What to use as inspiration to write a letter to city council” and get more involved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.