Community of support result of Plan B protest

Nigel
Nigel Armstrong
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Heavy equipment sits at the Plan B site in New Haven.

The Plan B protest may have failed to stop the highway realignment project, but it was a fight that needed to be fought and good things have come from it, says a spokesman for the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I.

“We thought that the very remarkable community that emerged from the Plan B opposition seemed to be a key feature of successful environmental action,” Don Mazer told a recent meeting of the coalition.  

At the annual meeting in Charlottetown, Mazer introduced a panel of three guest speakers on the topic of building community through environmental action.

“We wanted to do something to keep all this positive energy going,” said Mazer of the Stop Plan B protest activity.

“What is it that sustains folks in fighting these kinds of battles? What are the things that are effective? We also thought about the fact that sometimes you might lose the battle but you win the war,” said Mazer.

“Even though we haven’t stopped the highway, we did build community,” agreed Chris Ortenburger, a Stop Plan B organizer and panel speaker. “That was people sharing their experiences and supporting each other.”

She said it was rather cheeky to say, but food and good communication was one of many ways of keeping people returning to the Stop Plan B process.

Ortenburger said the people who opposed Plan B will likely show up for other protests in the future “in a heartbeat, even if the result was going to be the same.”

She recalls advice from co-panellist Gary Schneider of ECO PEI and the MacPhail Woods project.

“He said we have to reach out to the community,” said Ortenburger.

That reaching out proved successful, resulting in community meetings, community walks along the proposed highway route, rallies, and petitions signed.

She said that her children and family were all but abandoned with the work and effort of the protest, but they became part of and were embraced by the growing community of supporters.

“It was a pretty unfair lesson for the young people to see that it was such a fixed fight, and to see the greed and the lies and misuse of institutions like police,” said Ortenburger.

Next on the panel was Wayne Corrigan, a member of Tracadie Area Residents for Resource Protection, or TARRP. It was formed in September 1998 to oppose the creation of a landfill dump in the Tracadie Cross area. The group still exists and meets occasionally.

After a campaign that grew in local support, then to national and international media, the group was successful in stopping the dump. Soon after the province introduced the process that became Waste Watch.

“Even though we haven’t stopped the highway, we did build community." Chris Ortenburger

“Right from the start, TARRP established a clear mandate and a message regarding the proposal,” said Corrigan during the ECO PEI meeting. “We stuck to that.”

They got the local government MLA Mildred Dover to break ranks and support them but the die was already cast within government, said Corrigan.

There was no environmental assessment and no public consultation about the dump. A government consultant’s report said the site was poor.

TARRP received donations, formed letter-writing groups, a media-relations group and got support from other groups like aboriginal peoples.

The group even confronted Premier Pat Binns late one night at the airport and took over what was supposed to be an announcement of business and economic developments.

“That’s when things started to turn around,” said Corrigan. “Government fought us to the very end and only changed their position when convinced that public opinion turned against them. It took us over a year and it took an inordinate amount of time.

“They are both success stories,” said Gary Schneider, the final member of the speakers panel. “The Plan B people deserve a huge amount of honour and support for the work that they have done.

“I remember talking to Chris and saying you have to be prepared to lose but you can’t give up,” said Schneider. “This isn’t the only issue. I’m used to losing. I still think it’s tremendously worthwhile.”

Schneider said the past year has been brutal to the environment. He said the federal government is “kicking the devil out of environmental assessment,” and there is “madness going on” with resource exploitation. Locally there as Plan B, watershed siltation, fish kills and a seal slaughter.

People are scared to speak out because of neighbour attitudes, potential political pressure or loss of government contracts or jobs, said Schneider.

People get courage, however, to speak out for the environment when there is support from a community, he said.

“If you going to put your life into something like this, even for a year or whatever it is, you better have people around who make you feel good about that, even if you lose,” said Schneider. “Once people are organized and prepared and have the support of their community, it’s a lot more difficult for people to marginalize you.”

Organizations: Environmental Coalition of P.E.I.

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Tracadie Area, Tracadie Cross

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Why I Protested . .
    February 20, 2013 - 13:45

    Three reasons I became involved with the Plan B protest: 1) Lies: On this issue, almost any public statement made by Minister Vessey was either a result of conscious untruth or a result of incompetence. 2) Lies: The claim of inclusion in the decision making process was ludicrous and an insult to Islanders. Telling us something is going to happen is not including us in the decision. 3) Lies: Is there even one Islander that truly believes that this project was socially worthwhile, cost effective, within budget, aesthetically pleasing or environmentally friendly? And even if everything I've just written is wrong . . . at least it's not a lie. Like Criss Jami said, "Just because something isn't a lie does not mean that it isn't deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks portions of truth only to deceive simply crafts our destruction."

  • ProudPlanBProtester
    February 20, 2013 - 09:21

    “If you're going to put your life into something like this, even for a year or what ever it is, you better have people around who make you feel good about that, even if you loose,” said Schneider. “Once people are organized and prepared and have the support of their community, it’s a lot more difficult for people to marginalize you.” So well said Gary! The feedback that many of us who were part of the action against Plan B received from folks we knew, from the Plan B group and from complete strangers was overwhelming. We are now ready to be involved more, involved quicker, involved in more effective ways for future actions against gov't or in support of socially positive movements. Plan B was a watershed.

  • Chucker
    February 20, 2013 - 08:48

    Great. Good, solid, effective protest. It involved people on site and at rallies as well as people doing research, writing letters and web comments, and questioning public officials at meetings. Very well done. But never again do a Plan B mesage without clearly stating the key facts- the costs, the evidence, the fiscal state of the province, etc. Always repeat the facts that matter most. Always name Ghiz and Vessey and point out the complicity of the feds. Always name the companies that got the work. Make it about them and their decisions. And the motivations for their decisions. Do not make it about yourselves. Their MLAs are still more popular than you in their communities and their family networks. Keep the focus on them--- the government. Celebrate yes but keep the focus, what a stupid watse all of this is for the purposes of political payoffs. Do not get off message. That is where they want you to be--talking about yourselves instead of talking about them.

    • FanofChucker
      February 20, 2013 - 11:54

      Good Comment Chucker! Well done.

  • fedup
    February 19, 2013 - 21:47

    Now if Islanders could only feel this way regarding politics.... Perhaps there never would of been this mess if we stopped electing crooks and pushovers.

  • Armchairwarrior
    February 19, 2013 - 21:25

    Battle lost, true, but Islanders know the good guys from the bad guys now. The Emperor has no clothes - and the waste of over 20 million dollars won't be forgotten by PEI's voters, and the destruction of the watershed, and the incompetence of so called expert engineers, and the silence of MLA's who may have once garnered respect: the environmental crusaders will carry on against these rotten politicians.

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    February 19, 2013 - 16:56

    Plan B was just a small wake up call for Islanders that demonstrates government will not listen to the people and will continue to tighten the screws on all Islanders, just to prove they can, that they have the power. Well I say enjoy it while they can because it is going to end soon.

  • Involved
    February 19, 2013 - 15:59

    Good communication? Seriously? The Plan B team barely has any communication. I think my kids can communicate better. Had they been good communicators, they may have stopped this protest. Regards, Stop Plan B

    • hey "involved"
      February 20, 2013 - 07:42

      If you are, as you say, involved, then maybe you should use your good communication skills to communicate your concerns with the team, rather than anonymously trashing them when they get a little good press on the guardian.