After the Black Out

The impact was dramatic. First we lost all our government funding as part of an omnibus bill within a massive restraint program. Then we were obliged to submit to a long onerous and time consuming Income Tax audit. The third was revealed a few years later – a Cabinet Memo had been circulated to politicans and senior public servants warning them not to meet with our organization – that I was a trouble maker and not to be trusted. 

All were tough blows for a small non – profit advocacy group intent on closing institutions for people with mental handicaps in British Columbia and ending their inhuman, segregated treatment.

All this happened in the early 1980’s.

Today June 4th most major environmental organizations are shutting down their websites.  Others will follow suit in sympathy.  The campaign is called BlackOutSpeakOut. Their aim – to draw attention to a Federal omnibus budget bill which weakens environmental protections as well as the deliberate attempt by the Federal Government to classify environmental activists as terrorists.

It’s unclear to me what will be served by shutting down a host of websites. Seems to me that’s exactly what the federal governmnet would like. There may be a secret martial art move I’m not aware of. Certainly the groups involved are some of the most creative and successful environmental activists on the planet.

Our recovery thirty years ago made us tougher – tougher in our advocacy – tougher in our fund raising.  My roots as a social entrepreneur began there.

We also grew prouder. Prouder of our self sufficiency. Prouder of our ability to speak without fear of consequences. Prouder of the solutions we were able to introduce and implement including for example the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

I’m convinced the key reasons British Columbia became the first and for a long time the only large Canadian province to close its three big institutions was our independently financed advocacy and self sufficiency mindset.

Effective public policy advocacy can only be produced by non government funded organizations.

I have three wishes for the post June 4th blackout:

  1. an acceleration of support by Canadians for our canaries in the mine – environmental groups willing to debate and discuss critical environmental policy issues.
  2. other advocacy and policy organizations in Canada end their dependence on government funding and develop an independently funded public policy advocacy strategy
  3. social and environmental organizations join together to usher in a renaissance of solution based public policy making in Canada.

We are facing tough, complex social and environmental challenges and resolution will not happen without strong citizen based organizations speaking without fear of consequence.

Photocredit: Jason Samfield via flickr creative commons


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  1. Cathy L.

    Wow, Al, I had never heard that bit of PLAN history before. You’ve always been one of the most powerful voices of advocacy in this wonderful Province of ours. Your encouragement made me brave enough to bring my son home from Sunnyhill back in 1988, against some pretty tough odds….and maybe the lack of “government support” for this move, while very uncomfortable at the time, actually helped to make me tough enough to succeed against those odds. Today, 23 years later, Jeff is thriving and getting ready to turn 40. Meanwhile, “effective public policy advocacy” (from many sources, with PLAN still in a strong leadership role) has greatly improved the supports available to us and thus improved our chances for long-term continued success. So here is a giant “THANK YOU, AL!!!” from Jeff and myself for your courage and foresight. You are a Rock Star!
    With highest regards,
    Cathy and Jeffrey Lafortune

  2. Al Etmanski

    Nice to hear from you Cathy – the organization was BCACL not PLAN. Delighted to hear about Jeff – my very best wishes.

  3. Adamler

    Thanks for your take on this issue, Al. It seems all too easy for individuals and organizations to jump on the bandwagon of such boycotts without thinking about the systemic implications of the action. Alongside your thoughts above, is the destructive “us and them” issue mentality I’ve previously heard you speak about. You and your readers might appreciate Chad Parks’s complementary post on the subject, “Good guys & bad guys: They’re all part of the same unsustainable system”

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