Renowned environmental activist gives keynote speech at campus Green party gathering
On October 16, the Student Union Building’s Cinecenta theatre slowly filled to three-quarter capacity with a mixture of keen students, seasoned community members, and press photographers. Most were gathered at the campaign event by the UVic Greens club to address the looming issue of climate change as it relates to the upcoming Federal election.
Many also attended to hear from David Suzuki, one of Canada’s leading figures in environmental justice for over 50 years. While Suzuki was announced as the main speaker of the event, all four speakers were met with excited applause and drumming from Lekwungen elders in the front row.
After opening remarks and a territorial acknowledgement from Jacquie Miller and Andrew Rose, respectively the co-chair and events vice president of the UVic Greens, the speeches commenced with local climate activist Emma-Jane Burian. With a distinct pep in her voice, she emphasized the urgency of the situation at hand.
“The time is now. In fact, it was yesterday,” Burian said, expressing frustration toward “toxic political campaigns that seek to divide us in a time when we need each other like never before.”
She criticized global governments for having largely ignored warnings from climate scientists and cries for change from younger generations, and transitioned to a message of “hope, if we choose to follow it.”
Burian culminated her speech in an enthusiastic endorsement of the Green Party’s candidate for Victoria, Racelle Kooy, and closed with an introduction to B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.
Weaver explained that his decision not to run again for a seat in the Legislative Assembly was “crystallized” upon seeing youth on the grounds of B.C.’s Parliament Buildings calling for climate action. He presented an optimistic view of Victoria’s potential to become “the most sustainable, environmental, caring, global city in the world” under the Greens, and said that he wishes to see more politicians that take action on the promises they make toward sustainability.
Next, Miller returned to the stage to introduce Dr. Suzuki, who jumped up to the stage in an embroidered deerskin vest. With a gentle, clear voice, the now 83-year-old environmental scientist stated that he feels the upcoming election is “the most important … in [his] lifetime,” and apologized to Burian as he had to Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg.
“You shouldn’t have to do this,” he said. “This is what mum and dads are for!”
Suzuki covered many subtopics on humanity’s history with climate, including a track record of world leaders ignoring warning signs of climate change for several decades, human beings’ legacy through evolution and our ability to exploit resources, the persecution of Indigenous peoples, and the importance of understanding a political system that gives rise to values of extreme capitalism and consumerism.
Suzuki explained that he once argued with Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May that “it’s crazy that there’s a Green Party,” and wondered why all governments of Canada do not prioritize the environment in the way the Greens have since their founding in 1983. On the podium, however, he also endorsed Kooy as an MP candidate, having accepted the role the Greens play in Canadian politics.
Suzuki closed his speech by saying, “For the change ahead, thank you.” He was met with a standing ovation.
Finally, Kooy herself walked on stage and gifted to Suzuki a small wooden paddle as a token of gratitude. The paddle was similar to a larger one made by Kooy’s brother that she herself carries at public appearances, which is symbolic of steering what she called a “canoe of change.”
“You just heard from three giants,” she said to the audience. “Three giants who are out there leaning in hard.”
Kooy spoke of her role in government as not that of a politician, but as that of a steward of the land. She thanked the previous speakers for their contributions to climate activism. She proceeded to address challenges the Green Party have faced this election, including a mail-based attack campaign by the New Democratic Party and the burglary of Kooy’s campaign office that morning, sending a message that such incidents would not stop her, and asking for all Canadians to come together and have a relationship with the land — not leaving anyone behind.
With a “thank you, kukwstsétselp”, the event finished.