Kelowna residents looking to council for Blue Dot of environmental approval

A group of environmentally-minded residents are trying to get Kelowna council to affirm the right to a healthy environment.

Could Kelowna become a Blue Dot on the map of B.C.?

A group of environmentally-minded residents are trying to build momentum to have Kelowna council pass a declaration affirming the right to a healthy environment, aligning it with the David Suzuki foundation’s Blue Dot campaign.

“As of right now, 80 Canadian municipalities have passed similar declarations,” said Ezra Cipes, CEO of Summerhill Winery and one of the leading voices in the local endeavour.

“Fundamentally, it’s about the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and have access to safe food. It can also be about providing knowledge to residents about toxins released into the environment and allowing input into government decision making that affects our environment.”

Clean water and clean air are things that Kelowna residents are lucky enough to take for granted and the Blue Dot designation would largely be symbolic, he said.

But that doesn’t make it any less relevant. “Symbolism is an important part of leadership,” Cipes said, pointing out that a municipal declaration, along with a provincial declaration—an item being tabled at the UBCM meeting this week—would lay the roots for change at a higher level of government.

In particular, he hopes it could lay the groundwork for a change to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “What the charter is, is a distillation of our deeply held national beliefs—it’s the basis of our law,” he said.

“So if this is something we agree on as a country, and Canadians identify nature as part of their national identity, it should form the basis of our basic laws.”

More than 1,000 signatures from Kelowna residents supporting the Blue Dot campaign being brought to Kelowna council indicate a local appetite for change and Cipes believes more people of all stripes will get on board with the idea as word spreads.

“The main industries in Kelowna and the Okanagan are tourism, agriculture, real estate, construction and tech,” he said.

“All of these things are thriving because this is a beautiful place to live and work, and that is worth recognizing and protecting. I work at a winery, and when we export to China or Europe, we do it on the basis of having clean air, water and soil…That’s what Canada’s international brand is all about.”

That brand is increasingly valuable, he said, given that it’s only recently that most of the world has opened their eyes to the fact that humans are dramatically affecting the natural environment.

“I don’t think there is an argument against doing this,” he said.

“I believe the choice between economy or ecology will balance itself. Charter rights always balance each other.”

We have the right to free speech, he pointed out, while protections against hate speech are also in place

“Would this mean we would have to stop driving cars, and the oil fields will shut down?” he said.

“No, we are a resource based economy, that’s not going to change.

“But it would mean that communities where people live are protected from adverse affects of these industries. I believe it would create a new consciousness and awareness in our economy.”

Kelowna city council will have its first official opportunity to weigh in on the issue this week with a motion brought forward by the City of Richmond.

The resolution will allow B.C.’s local leaders to vote on a resolution that calls on the provincial government to enact an Environmental Bill of Rights.

It’s unclear where Kelowna’s mayor and council will land, but it could signal how they will vote when the request for a local declaration is before them.

To learn more about “The right to a healthy environment” in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or to sign a petition to encourage local government to sign a declaration, there’s an event being held this weekend.

Innerfish Performance Co and Conduit presents The Right to a Healthy Environment at the Kelowna Community Theatre, on Sunday Sept. 27, to feature local and regional musicians, visual artists, literary talent and talks by renowned environmentalists. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the curtain going up at 7:30 p.m.

A $10 donation at the door is suggested.

For more information go to conduitfestival.com.