For anyone who grew up or spent time in Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is more than the world’s largest skating rink. The beloved skating rink has been the site of first skates, romantic dates, and hard-won hockey games between friends. Canadians from all walks of life have put on their laces to slide across the ice of the canal.
But as Canada’s climate warms, these fond memories are harder to recall. The Rideau Canal Skateway was unable to open last year and this year’s initial opening lasted only four days. Now ice lovers are wondering: Will we be able to skate down the canal for winterlude?
Given the importance of winter to Winterlude, it is a great paradox that one of the longest-standing sponsors of this iconic festival is Enbridge Gas. Enbridge is Canada’s largest distributor fossil fuel gas, used to heat homes and water and generate electricity. But its product, marketed as “natural” gas, is actually primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
It’s a sad irony that big polluters like Enbridge sponsor winter events. Simply put, their emissions cause a rise in global temperatures: dire news for the snow and ice phenomena on which Winterlude depends.
When the skating rink was closed last year, we thought it was time for Ottawa’s beloved festival to drop Enbridge Gas as a corporate sponsor. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) launched a call for the Department of Canadian Heritage, organizer of the festival, to do just that. There was a lot of public support.
We had a moment of hope when Winterlude 2024 was announced online and Enbridge was nowhere to be found. CAPE sent several messages to Canadian Heritage over weeks trying to confirm Enbridge’s status as a sponsor and received no response. Unfortunately, when Winterlude posters hit the streets of Ottawa earlier this week, Enbridge’s logo (and that of its Quebec wing, Gazifère) were prominently listed as sponsors.
Unfortunately, Enbridge’s sponsorship of Winterlude is not an anomaly. There is a long history of companies sponsoring events and festivals as a way to divert attention from their negative behaviors and gain public support: also known as “sportswashing.” A report from early last year. found a minimum of 107 sponsorship deals between winter sporting events and large emitters around the world, including fossil fuel companies, automakers and others.
For example, Enbridge is listed as a sponsor of the Winter River Lights Festival in Amherstburg, Ont. In 2019, ATCO Energy was the sponsor of the Canada Winter Games. Petro-Canada — owned by Suncor Energy – is listed as a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee. The International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada also have Esso (ExxonMobil) as a sponsor of the Junior World Cup, a sponsorship that is also supported by Save Pond Hockey, the Swedish organization Badvertising and CAPE. are working to stop.
In short, the fossil fuel companies most responsible for the environmental and health damage caused by climate change and pollution are using community events as billboards to promote their interests. And all this for a pittance compared to the huge profits they are making. Meanwhile, the damage they are doing to Canadian communities is countless: from rising asthma rates to smoke-clogged skies and deaths from extreme heat.
Regarding tobacco sponsorship of sport, the The federal government took the position For almost 40 years, “sponsorship of amateur sports should not be used as a vehicle to promote a product that represents a significant risk to the health of young Canadians and the general population.”
That’s why we’re outraged to see the Enbridge logo next to the iconic Winterlude snowflake on billboards around town. The fact that Winterlude is tainted by “sportswashing” by fossil fuel companies is a disgrace. We call on Canadian Heritage to institute policies that prohibit fossil fuel companies from sponsoring their events. The health of Canadians, the climate and our winters depend on it.
GP Sehjal Bhargava He is co-president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (LAYER) Ontario chapter. Read Temperament He is director of CAPE’s health and economic policy program. Steven Baynes He is CEO and co-founder of Save pond hockey.
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