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While shooting the shit on a snowboarding trip, a friend of mine posed some solid questions. “What does Protect Our Winters actually do?” he mused, “Isn’t POW just a bunch of pros that own snowmobiles asking me for money? And how much does it cost to protect one winter?” He was half-joking, but the questions hung in the air—the truth is, none of us had proper answers for him. Had David Erb, the executive director of Protect Our Winters Canada, been there, the conversation would have been more fruitful. We talked to David to gain insight into POW Canada. Here’s what you need to know. –David MacKinnon
• POW Canada has 9,000 members. Membership is fairly evenly distributed between British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, with Alberta close behind.
• It’s a separate organization from POW in the U.S. Operating in another country means being subject to different laws and corporate structure. It also wouldn’t make sense for an American group to be lobbying in Canada.
• POW’s goal is to use the influence of the outdoor industry to lobby policy solutions for climate change. POW Canada supports policies that forward the following goals: Hit Paris Agreement emissions reductions (30% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030), shifting from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels for heating homes, buildings, transporting goods and powering industries, support carbon pricing, incentivize the development of renewable/low carbon technologies, and position communities, business, and citizens to transition to low-carbon energy sources.
• POW Canada is focused on federal policy, which means lobbying through Members of Parliament and Ministries that act on behalf of the whole country. So, aside from mobilizing members and running the campaigns, you see on social media, the work that POW Canada does to support climate solutions is basically asking MPs to put environmental protections, restrictions, and incentives into legislation. The idea is that by amplifying their messages with as many of our voices as possible, they can convince the politicians to take the ideas seriously.
• An example of the lobbying that POW Canada has done is the #RejectTeck Campaign. The group was opposed to the Teck Frontier Oil Sands project. In early 2020, they lobbied the Ministry of Environment and Prime Minister’s Office. Over 4,000 POW Canada members sent e-mails to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Environment. The campaign, a collaboration with other environmental groups, sent a strong message and Teck responded by cancelling the project, explaining in a press release that they did not see a constructive path forward at a time when Canadians are debating our country’s role in mitigating climate change. As of 2016, Teck estimated annual emissions of four megatonnes of carbon for the project. By mobilizing its membership, POW Canada helped keep that carbon in the ground and furthered its goal of helping keep Canada on track to hit its Paris Agreement commitments.
• Being a POW Canada member means you will receive information on campaigns, e-mails designed to help you understand issues that POW Canada wants to address (including videos, podcasts, links to articles, or suggested books) aimed at educating you to a point where you feel comfortable adding your voice to the conversation, and information about ongoing POW Canada projects.
• POW Canada encourages members to attend climate rallies but does not support civil disobedience.
• POW Canada will ask for donations. In 2019, donations made up about 10% of the group’s income. Donations do not go towards lobbying, but rather to Hot Planets Cool Athletes Canada, a distinct organization with a separate corporate structure from Protect Our Winters Canada. HPCA Canada delivers POW’s education program and exists separately from POW Canada (a not-for-profit) so that it can have charitable status and issue tax receipts for donations. The distinction needs to be made because, in Canada, lobbying groups can’t operate as charities.
• HPCA primarily focuses on youth engagement through school events. In 2019, HPCA Canada reached 12,000 students in person, and there are over 70 schools on the waitlist for presentations. Olympic medalists and high-profile athletes visit schools to drive climate change information and action, at no cost to schools.
• The majority of POW’s funding comes from industry partnerships. In 2019, companies like Burton, MEC, Salomon, Arc’Teryx, etc. provided POW Canada $218,563, for 55.9% of the organizations’ total income. POW Canada raised $84,518 at events, and $39,152 from donations. The group’s total income was $391,046.
• POW athlete ambassadors don’t get paid.
• POW Canada is very young compared to its U.S. counterpart. The group launched at the end of 2018, and is still finding its voice in Canada’s unique climate discussion.
After looking under the hood, I still don’t know how much it costs to protect a single winter. But I do know that the issues POW Canada are engaged with are important and the group is doing meaningful work. One clear thing is that POW Canada is only as effective as we make it. “The climate battle will be won or lost on the success of movements,” says David, “and our strength lies in our ability to bring new people to the climate movement.” It’s easy to become a member—visit protectourwinters.ca and click around. You don’t have to participate in every action or sign every petition, but when the time comes you’ll have the resources, knowledge, and a growing community at your back.