By Cameron Esler
4/28/2015

Congratulations everyone! With a great turnout for the Connect the Blue Dots national day of action on April 19, you helped show Canada that people care about environmental rights, and are ready to take action to support them.

So, you might be thinking: now what?

We’re working towards provincial and federal recognition for the right to a healthy environment. Getting all levels of government involved is critical to protecting the right to fresh air, clean water and healthy food for all Canadians. But to get there, we still need your help at the municipal level.

What’s in a municipal declaration of environmental rights?

A municipal declaration of environmental rights is an aspirational statement about the right to a healthy environment. Although it’s non-binding, it holds power: it helps a community work through the ideas around environmental rights, come to a decision point and commit to taking further action.

The first part of the declaration includes a council’s statement that it supports safe and healthy communities and environmental rights. The middle section lays out some decision-making parameters, to support more sustainable policies moving forward. The next section asks council to come up with timelines and targets for developing more sustainable policies. The declaration concludes with an action item requesting that councils ask their provincial and federal governments to move forward with environment rights legislation.

Municipal declarations are declarative aspirational statements that lay out some decision-making parameters, provide some action items and engage local councils in urging other levels of government to take action. We work with local organizers to shape these declarations to best fit their communities. That comes after initial organizing has occurred, when a group is ready to start approaching their council.

How do you organize to bring a municipal declaration to your local council?

Sometimes, when a single citizen brings a declaration forward, councils look at it and hesitate. But if a group of citizens comes forward with a declaration and they’re able to explain what’s in it and demonstrate public support for it, then councillors are more apt to sign on. We’ve had municipalities where, initially, some councillors said, “no,” but when they saw the people power behind the idea, they gave it more consideration. When councillors realize they’d be saying “no” to a safe and healthy community, they change their minds.

We’ve found it’s most effective if people organize and gain public support first. Get started by organizing volunteers to be at local events — farmers markets are great — talking to people and gathering signatures. There are a lot of materials for getting started in the Blue Dot Organizer Toolkit, and also in our online webinars for organizers. Sharing conversations about why this matters to you really helps reach people and engage them.

People power means building a strong organizing group, and gathering a significant number of signatures. When you’ve built some people power, you can move forward and find a champion on council, someone who shares your passion for this idea and will work behind the scenes to help it make its way through the council process. (This is where we can help with some coaching.)

You support your champion by getting people to show up at council meetings and to email their councillors about why environmental rights are important to them. Mobilize some people who are hard to ignore: we’ve seen, in cases such as The Pas, or young leaders like Rupert Yakelashek, that having youth write letters and paint murals for councils can have a big impact. When councillors realize this idea is important to their constituents, they’re more likely to take action.

In the end, this is a wonderful opportunity for councils and citizens to stand together and show that safe and healthy communities are important to us all, so that we can move forward and change the laws at the provincial and federal levels. Right now, the more municipal declarations we can get in place, the stronger our voice will become when we work with the next levels of government.

Thank you to all of you who are already organizing in your communities (there are about 100 communities, large and small, where organizing action is underway). Keep it up! And to those in communities where work to support the right to a healthy environment hasn’t yet started: please consider gathering a few friends and taking the lead. We’re here to help. This work all adds up, and it is making a difference across Canada — but it all starts at the local level, with the power of local people.

Want to find out if Blue Dot organizing is underway in your community? Search for a local Blue Dot page on Facebook. Or send us an email: