Augy Jones is the first to admit that when it comes to environmental racism, his name "wouldn't come to the top of the pile" in a list of experts.
But Jones, the first appointed member of a new panel addressing environmental racism in the province, does describe himself as an expert in bringing people together.
One of his first tasks will be to recommend other panel members.
"I think about myself as a basketball coach picking a team. I want to pick the right team, you know, I want to pick a team of all stars, especially all stars who are sanctioned by community and have a connection with community."
The provincial government launched the panel in accordance with a recent change to the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act. The amendment was proposed by NDP MLA Suzy Hansen.
Environment Minister Timothy Halman said in a news release on Thursday that Nova Scotians "are entitled to protection from environmental harm and to benefit from the work we are doing together to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our environment and communities.
"Only by applying an equity lens to all of the act's goals and work will we ensure our work benefits all Nova Scotians and helps to create a future free of inequity and environmental racism."
Pat Dunn, the minister responsible for the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives, said in the release that "the harms of environmental racism have affected too many communities in Nova Scotia, especially African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaw communities. This panel is one step to address these wrongs and build a more just future."
Panel will be community-focused
Jones, the principal of the Nova Scotia Community College's Akerley campus and a former leader within the provincial Education Department, says the panel will not be an inward-looking government group, but rather a community-focused panel.
"It's that the community's voice is heard — nothing about us without us — because we often don't focus on the people that are being victimized or affected. So my main focus and the expertise I have is going to the Black community, going to the Indigenous community, going to the Acadian community and hearing what their concerns are."
Jones says he doesn't know how many people he will recommend for the panel, but said it will likely involve community experts, academic experts and government experts.
"I do know that in my time in leadership, large panels and committees are not as effective as smaller ones.… I would say that it's going to be small and effective."
There are many examples of environmental racism in the province, Jones said, and he expects to learn of more as the group does its work.
The panel is expected to make its recommendations to the province by the end of 2023.
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