Honourary doctorate in Environmental Studies

On June 14, 2022, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo awarded me an honourary doctorate. Here is the address I gave to convocation:

"When I am six years old, I fall in love with nature. Polio is ripping through the city, so my brother and I go to sleep away camp.  There, we hear birdsong, not traffic; smell balsam fir, not exhaust fumes. We swim in a real lake among living fish, we taste our very first wild raspberries. Thus begins a lifelong love affair, that continues to this day.

What I didn’t suspect at six, or even in law school, was that nature needed protectors, and that I could be one of them. This was before we had environmental law or environmental studies.

Instead, I won a coveted job at a fancy tax law firm. My family was proud, the paycheque was great, but I hated it. I was horrified to be helping the rich evade taxes. Eventually, someone let me in on a secret: no woman had a future at that firm.

Now what? All the good jobs had been snapped up a year ago, the recession was deep, and the future I had worked for was in tatters.

Fortunately, there was an unfilled articling job left over at the ministry of energy. Little money, no prestige, not a topic I had wanted to work on, but I was in no position to be picky. Plus public good, and a chance of a long-term career even for a woman.

At the Ministry of Energy, I had real legal work to do, on issues that mattered, and that served the public good. Sometimes there were environmental tasks I could volunteer for. Doing those tasks, I learned that nature was in peril and that lawyers could do something about it.

It took 10 years, and many setbacks, until I got to fight for nature as a lawyer for the ministry of environment. Finally, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but nothing turned out as I expected.

  • When a jealous new boss made the MOE job impossible, I earned a PhD in law, and joined a private firm.
  • When an unbridgeable clash of values made that impossible, I started my own law firm, and ran it through children and cancers and recessions.
  • I gave up my firm to become the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, hoping to do that for the rest of my working life.
  • When Ford abolished my office, I was forced, again, to start again from scratch. I started a podcast, Green Economy Heroes, and did the hardest thing for an introvert, the one thing I swore I would never do – enter politics. So I stand before you today as deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party, the only party serious about our climate future.

I have now been an environmental and energy lawyer for 46 years. So much has been lost, but we have had some victories and there is still so much we can save. And now there are all of you.

Despite every setback, I have kept fighting because:

  • I accept a personal obligation to protect it. Not to finish the task, or to guarantee results, but to show up and keep doing my part. Do you?
  • It is not too late,  yet, to make a difference in what is ahead. So I look for a meaningful task to do and a good team to do it with. When the last one is gone, I look for a new one. Will  you?

Who would like to have hope? The only formula I know is knowledge plus action equals Hope

You have the knowledge. You know more than most people about our climate and environmental peril. Now it’s time to turn that knowledge into action.

Don’t give up- not now, not ever. Fight for what you love. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. If there isn’t a direct path, take another. When you get knocked down, get back up. When you’re tired, rest, don’t quit. When the rules are stupid, run for office and try to change them.

Action feels way better than anxiety, and there is so much at stake.

I will be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I did everything I could. What will you do for what you love?"

Watch the convocation address here.

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