By bike and rail, one woman’s trek for a just transition

·5 min read

A Saskatchewan woman journeyed by bike and train to search for a Prairie MP willing to push for a just transition in the House of Commons.

In October, Laura Stewart took part in a week of action organized by the Council of Canadians demanding community-led just transition legislation within the first 100 days of Parliament.

Organizers like Stewart gathered signatures for micro-petitions to bring to their MPs to keep pressure on the government and raise the question of a just transition act in the House.

But when Stewart asked Regina-Wascana Conservative MP Michael Kram if he would table the petition, the answer was no.

After reaching out to MP Kevin Waugh, chair of the Conservative Saskatchewan Caucus (among others) and getting nowhere, Stewart decided to seek support elsewhere.

“The original thought was just to get a face-to-face meeting with an MP who might be receptive and the closest would be Winnipeg,” she said. “But then I thought I don't want to just jump in my car... For the sake of this trip, I wanted to try to kind of live in the world that I want to see.”

That’s why Stewart decided to travel to Winnipeg by electric bike and train.

She says “the complications just kept coming” and highlighted the petition’s demand for accessible public transit countrywide.

On Oct. 23, Stewart embarked on a 150-kilometre bike ride to the nearest train station in Melville, Sask., but says she had to negotiate with Via Rail customer service to bring her electric bike aboard. She was able to take the bike with her after removing its battery and leaving it in Melville.

Stewart said these obstacles “gave me more determination and confidence and a sense that we could do this on a societal level, [that] we could just tackle these obstacles one after another instead of using them as excuses not to move ahead.”

From Melville, she took the train to Rivers, Man., and then biked to Brandon before getting on a train to Winnipeg. Along the way, she met with climate activists and spoke to people about her mission.

On Nov. 15, she had a face-to-face with the NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan to discuss the petition, achieving the goal of her weeks-long journey.

Gazan's office wouldn’t confirm to Canada’s National Observer whether she will commit to tabling the petition, but Stewart said she’s pleased with the outcome of her trip and being able to bring the petition to an MP and countless individuals along the way.

“The larger goal is to have waves of these petitions presented in Parliament, and I'm confident that my trip will contribute to that,” she said.

One final challenge presented itself on Nov. 15, when Stewart’s train back to Melville was cancelled due to flooding. With a blizzard making its way across the Prairies and the next available train a week away, she decided to rent a car to get herself home.

“It's a final underscore to how fragile and underserved our public transit intercity system is,” said Stewart.

“We need to recognize that while we're talking about how we'll make the transition, the longer we leave it, the more difficult it's going to be because these disasters will keep working against us.”

So far, 13 MPs have committed to reading just transition petitions in the House, according to the Council of Canadians, and still more petitions have yet to be delivered.

Rachel Bendayan, Liberal MP for Outremont, is one of the 13 MPs bringing the petition to Ottawa and says working collaboratively with provincial and municipal governments is key in the fight against climate change.

“I represent a riding that has both wealthy families and individuals, but also folks who are extremely vulnerable and that are working two or three jobs that don't necessarily have the kind of money it takes to buy an electric vehicle right now ... that don't necessarily have the means of always making the greenest possible choices for themselves and their families,” said Bendayan.

She says, to her, a just transition means not leaving anyone behind.

Ben Lobb, Conservative MP for Huron-Bruce, has also agreed to table the petition after one of his constituents approached him.

“There are things in the petition I do not support, but as her MP, I believe it is my job to present the petition to the House on behalf of my constituents,” reads a quote from Lobb, provided by an office staff member in a phone interview.

Petitions are one of the few ways Canadians can have direct input in the House of Commons, said Matthew Green, NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, who has agreed to table the petition.

“Anybody following what's happening in Merritt, B.C., what happened to Lytton, the ongoing raging forest fires, floods, and just general climate catastrophe (knows) that there needs to be a radical shift away from fossil fuels and into an economy that is focused on the planet and not just the profits of oil and gas sector companies,” he said.

Stewart says her journey showed her “there's huge support across the Prairies for a just transition” and will be ready to continue the work.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer

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