News feeds blew up last week when Ontario’s government announced an end to funding for the 50 Million Tree Program. Among the organizations majorly affected are local conservation authorities and the Ferguson Tree Centre in North Grenville, which is the program’s second largest tree producer.

Since implemented in 2008, 27 million trees have been planted, more than half of the intended goal. Last year the program had a total cost of $4.7-million of taxpayer money. Despite seeming like an unattainable number in my own life, it is a drop in the bucket in Ontario’s multi-billion dollar budget. I can appreciate the desire to be fiscally responsible and get Ontario’s books back on track; yet such blatant disregard for the programs that work to make Ontario sustainable is unforgivable, not to mention the job loss that will no doubt be a repercussion of the cut.

Ontario government’s budget encompasses ideologies to be fiscally responsible and put people first; but none of that will matter if we don’t have clean oxygenated air to breathe. Perhaps that is a dramatic statement, perhaps it’s not so far off the mark. It is not news that we need trees to survive or that they help protect us from the fluctuations occurring in our environment. Trees filter the air, stabilize soil, cool the planet by providing shade, circumvent damaging winds, not to mention their inherent beauty and health effects.

The flooding along the Ottawa River and in Quebec is not a fluke and it will continue to happen in the future. Planting trees though, will help mitigate these events, stop erosion from causing more damage and give us a means to manage drastic weather events; without them, we will only see more harm caused to our wallets and ourselves in the future.

Take Quebec’s provincial government for example, they have offered residents $200,000 to move to safer locations rather than rebuild. Well, that may be a temporary solution but what happens when we are without the protection of trees and those flood zones only grow. How much more money will need to be spent to relocate again and again when we could be working with our environment instead of against it? Allowing floodplains and wetlands to do their job, instead of draining them for development.

Without initiatives like the 50 Million Tree Program, we move further away from solutions to environmental pressures and propel ourselves into a future, ripe with opportunity for catastrophic events and mass human and animal extinction. Climate change isn’t the boogie monster or a political tool to manipulate the voting public. It is not going to disappear because we and our politicians choose to ignore it. It will happen with or without our opinion on board. And where will that leave the elusive balanced budget, when what is truly in the crossfire is our own safe, healthy existence on this precious planet.

I worry that using the words environment and climate change might only add to the constant rhetoric both green and non-green that is driving us toward complacency, which to my mind is the antithesis of where our thoughts, and in turn actions, need to be directed; but without voices for these issues they will go unnoticed and our politicians will go unchecked. 

Politicians want our votes and in order to get them, they need to prove they can fight for what is best for their people. We are powerful en masse.

Kalynn Sawyer Helmer