GreenPAC chatted with Michael Chong about his connection to nature, and why he thinks it’s important to be an environmental leader.
When did you first discover your connection with the natural environment?
There were two moments where I really felt the importance of preserving and conserving our natural environment.
I grew up and still live in a rural farming community an hour and a half northwest of Toronto in Wellington County, in a landscape dominated by farms. My mother was Dutch and we spent time in the Netherlands as a child. I saw how well they used their limited farmland, compared to Canada, where much of our farmland and wild spaces were being eaten up by urban sprawl. It helped me realize the importance of farmland protection. I saw the way we were paving over farmland in southern ontario, and I realized we could approach this challenge differently.
Secondly, when I was about 20 years old, I took a canoe trip with some friends into Algonquin Park. We entered through Canoe Lake and made our way through the park. I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty that is the lakes and trees of Algonquin Park. We needed to ensure that this legacy of our natural wilderness is passed onto future generations.
Why do you think it’s important for you as a politician to show leadership on the environment?
I think it’s one of the important issues facing us as Canadians and citizens on this planet. It’s not an issue that in Canada has been at the forefront as it should be, and I think that’s why people in positions of leadership - in the corporate or political world - need to step up and talk about it.
How important is it to you to have environmental leadership across all political parties?
It’s incredibly important. Real change happens when there is a consensus across the political spectrum. I like to point to healthcare - there is a consensus left to right across the country that public healthcare is important and it should be protected. This is important for the environment as well.
What is your hope for the future of environmental issues in Canada?
I think we need to have a debate and a plan for carbon pricing. We’ve talked about it for many years and we’ve yet to achieve a plan for the entire economy. Another area we need to continue to protect is our farmland. Urban sprawl is putting huge pressures on farmland in our city regions and it’s shortsighted to pave over this farmland.
I’d like to see continued expansion of our natural parks system and there are lots of to-be-protected areas. In particular, I would like to see the completion of Rouge National Park; see the province and the federal government work together to make sure it’s protected. We have yet to protect the carolinian forest biosphere. Completion of this park would ensure that this element of our natural geography is brought into Canada’s national park system.
Finally, we need to work is to continue to improve the water quality in the Great Lakes watershed, especially Lake Erie. Two years ago, communities in the Ohio area on the banks of Lake Erie had to shut down their access to municipal drinking water because of a toxic algae bloom. The lake is under pressure from nutrient runoff, and the U.S. and Canadian governments need to work together to protect the water quality.
See what Mr. Chong and other environmental leaders have to say about GreenPAC here.