Oblates Join Lobby Effort on Parliament Hill


Oblates Join Lobby Effort on Parliament Hill

“Placing a price on pollution.”

A “carbon levy” where 80% of Canadians receive (sometimes invisible) “rebates.”

Seven provinces asking that the scheduled increase not take place on April 1.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (which once supported a carbon tax) are now promising to “Axe the Tax!”

In the midst of an affordability crisis, environmental issues tend to shrink on the priority lists of many Canadians – and their politicians. With polling numbers at almost historic lows, the federal government appears to listlessly waffle on previously announced commitments. All-in-all, it doesn’t sound like a good time to ask for more!

Yet, Catholic organizations want to see increased ambition to face the climate crisis.

In the third week of March, eight members of Catholic religious congregations engaged in meetings with Members of Parliament and senior staff of federal ministries. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were represented, along with the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters), the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish. All are members of ORCIE – The Office of Religious Congregations for Integral Ecology.

ORCIE is a network of over two dozen Catholic religious congregations across Canada who have a long history of addressing social, economic, and environmental issues. Catholic congregations of women and men established schools and hospitals as well as social outreach, land, and water protection projects. Established less than two years ago and working out of the office of the Centre Oblat at St. Paul University in Ottawa, ORCIE focuses on climate change, not only because it is a defining issue of our time, but because it interacts with multiple other critical issues such as Indigenous rights, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, migration, and health.  ORCIE takes a systemic approach, advocating for “integral ecology,” that is, policy changes that contribute to relationships of solidarity with people and the planet.

What did ORCIE’s Lobby and Learning Week do? And was it effective?

On Monday, ORCIE sponsored a 90-minute webinar, where all members were invited to listen to climate change experts who offered insights on current “hot” political issues and strategies. (These events are open to Oblates and advertised to readers of the Centre Oblat’s News/Nouvelles on-line newsletter.) Not everyone is able to travel to Ottawa for the Lobby Day – so several religious take up the challenge to raise these same issues when their MPs are back in their ridings. On Wednesday, orientation sessions were organized at St. Paul University, where two teams of four religious were introduced to the backgrounds of the persons they are scheduled to meet and engage in role playing and preparation. Thursday morning on the Hill began with an 8 am breakfast sponsored by environmental activist MPs of four federal parties, followed by a series of meetings that took weeks of phone calls and e-mails to arrange.

Social and environmental policy change does not happen overnight – so how can we evaluate such an initiative?

The main thrust of ORCIE’s “asks” on the Hill were for greater ambition on climate change – in particular, for the federal government to demand emissions reductions from our largest source: the oil and gas industry. This can and should be done by implementing an “emissions cap” on the industry (promised since 2021); publicizing the Clean Energy Regulations (also promised) that will enshrine renewable energies as providers of electricity to Canadians by 2035; or even implementing a “windfall profits tax” on the massive profits of fossil fuel companies. (Look to the Federal Budget, forthcoming on April 16 – but this is unlikely to be included.)

The first meeting of Team 1 took place in the offices of an impressive man who is an Assistant Deputy Minister in Natural Resources Canada. He graciously welcomed us by sharing that not only is he a Catholic, but that this was the first time in his life of public service and leadership that he ever met with representatives of any faith community. In comparison, representatives of industry are engaging with he and his staff continuously. ORCIE was established because some far-sighted religious could see that whereas local greening initiatives were advancing, and environmental education included in some Sunday sermons, Catholics are noticeably absent in proposing policy and encouraging systemic change. One MP from the GTA pointedly asked us if his archbishop was concerned with these same issues as we were raising with him…he noticed that church leadership has not be heard from on these issues. ORCIE is part of the collaborative response of our faith communities to “walk the talk” with greater impact.

For Oblates in Canada, this is the deeper reason for participation in environmental justice work. Whether called for by Pope Francis in (2015) Laudato Si, or in (2023) Laudate Deum, or even the August 15 2023 letter of Superior General Chicho Rois Alonso, environmental action is an essential aspect of the missionary vocation today. How might ORCIE better reflect his specific charism?

By Joe Gunn – Executive Director of Le Centre Oblat: A Voice for Justice.