Exhaustion. Exhilaration. Self-doubt. It seems like I've been assailed by these emotions daily on my cross-Canada bus tour. With up to three speaking events a day, along with a constant barrage of media interviews, punctuated by hours of driving on the open road, the emotional peaks and valleys are truly draining. But of this much I am certain: This is a great country.
Looking out across the vast, windblown blanket of snow the Prairies is hypnotic. And yet I can't help think that in spite of the vastness of this land and the great distances between us, Canadians seem to share a common set values that I have been lucky enough to have experienced first hand.
Canadians, I have learned, have a profound love of our land and our natural spaces. And they want to take care of them for our children and grandchildren. They feel like they are already seeing the early stages of global warming and they are concerned about what it will mean for the future. They want to help, to do their part. And they have an innate sense of fairness — that we should all be doing our share. The passion with which people have expressed their views has been at times overwhelming, but these stories are the very reason why we did this tour.
It started with a seed of an idea. Long before TV, cars or cell phones, entertainers would load a tent and all their regalia on wagons and move from town to town. When their tents went up, people gathered to share ideas as well as music, acrobatics and theatre. Eventually, a permanent site for annual gatherings was established in Chautauqua, New York, and it became a magnet for people wanting to engage in public discourse.
A few years ago, I began to float a modified version of a Chautauqua. Why not take our ideas on the road, I suggested, going to communities to find out their concerns and to talk about emerging global environmental issues? The idea took root in recent months as, over the past year, reports about water shortages, fires, floods, heat waves and hurricanes suddenly showed us that such problems were no longer just happening somewhere else, they were happening at home too.
As the Inuit have been telling us, global warming can no longer be seen as a slow motion catastrophe — they are seeing it happen in the Arctic right now. In addition, Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, had an explosive impact on the public psyche, while books like Tim Flannery's The Weathermakers and George Montbiot's Heat ramped up public awareness and concern about climate change.
So we started planning, but we knew we couldn't just blow through communities — we needed the conversation to carry on after we left. Our hope was to act as a catalyst to conversation, a dialogue about community, provincial, federal and international issues, starting at the local level. We contacted local community groups in cities on our proposed route and asked whether they would partner with us and organize the events to enable us to gather with local people. Those local organizations have been amazing, and critical to the success of the tour.
When we set off from St. John's, we had no idea what to expect. But the response has been incredible. To date, we have recorded hundreds of video testimonies from people telling us what they would do for the environment if they were Prime Minister. And we have collected thousands of ballots voting for the environment.
Sustained applause and intense discussion during the question and answer sessions indicates to me a hunger for such discourse and a desire for real action from our political leaders. So here we are, nearing the end of the tour, having met with people in dozens of communities across this vast country. It's an experience that I wish I could share with everyone, because it has changed my life. Next month I celebrate my 71st year filled with a new hope and optimism for the people of this country.