Doug Ford’s Broken Greenbelt Promise Tells Young People There’s No Point in Voting

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Premier Doug Ford’s plan to carve up the Greenbelt for suburbs and highways is a lesson Ontario students shouldn’t learn.

It’s a broken promise. Ford said earlier that “we won’t touch the Greenbelt.” This is a bad message about bad policy.

Young people are looking for leadership and examples to show that their voice and their future matter. Parents and educators also need these examples for our children. Cutting Ontario’s green spaces does the opposite.

Educators who work with students from kindergarten through high school graduation know that the ultimate goal is to help our children become better citizens. This now means instilling an understanding of the environment and sustainability – hope for a safe and better future and how to achieve it.

Ford won the 2022 election with the lowest voter turnout in Ontario history. Breaking your promise to protect the Greenbelt sends a message to young people that there is no point in voting; politics does not work for the common good and politicians do what they want no matter what people say.

That’s a bad lesson in life for anyone. For young people, it teaches them not to value institutions. It does not build trust. It does not support civic skills.

Good school curricula are designed to encourage viewing the world as a system. They help students learn how everything is connected, with complex root causes and consequences that may be intentional or unexpected. Our students learn the interconnections whatever the subject – the causes of WWII, how to share and be a friend or how land, water and climate create the conditions to grow food or capture carbon.

The Greenbelt — if protected — is Ontario’s ultimate learning tool. It is a system of farm and forest, water and air, which cannot be segmented without damaging the functioning of the system as a whole. We are all just as completely dependent on these environmental systems. It’s like a Jenga game, kids know that if you remove too many pieces, the whole tower falls.

We shouldn’t teach children another lesson in which adults lack the creativity to regenerate good, healthy places for people – walkable communities surrounded by protected green spaces, with local food, clean water and biodiversity to sustain life.

The biggest lesson: we want to teach our students about hope, not despair. It’s a mental health issue. Many recent surveys show how anxious young people are today about climate change and their future. Most young people say they want to take action, but don’t know how or if they will make a difference. This leads to fear and apathy.

Educators use positive examples from the news and local communities to show what is being done to support equity and social justice, new technologies and new ways to generate energy, grow business and to grow the economy with less carbon. Students need good examples to build and exercise their active hope of being resilient and resourceful citizens.

Ford has a way of building that active hope: keeping its promise not to touch our Greenbelt. This is a lesson we want to teach.

Susan Elliott, PhD. is a teacher, former school administrator and environmental education consultant.

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