Blog: The Faces of CELA with Terry Rees

Q&A with Terry Rees
Blog posted by April Weppler, Engagement Co-ordinator on October 29, 2019

What is your role and how long have you been involved with CELA?

I’ve been the Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA) for 15 years. FOCA is the largest organization of rural waterfront landowners in Canada, representing 50,000 member families in hundreds of communities, from Kenora to Cornwall. My affiliation with CELA began when I took environmental law courses at Ryerson in the early 90’s, ramped up through my interest and involvement with the Walkerton Inquiry. My connection with CELA has been a constant source of information – and inspiration – ever since.

What inspired you to get involved in environmental law and public policy?

I’m deeply invested in Canada’s wild spaces, our lakes and rivers, and keenly aware of their importance for our economy, our health and our overall quality of life. I’ve had a lifetime of passion for the out of doors, and (prior to FOCA) a career in heavy industry (forestry, petrochemicals, and non-ferrous metals recycling). The rule of law sets the parameters, the guide for how we operate, provides clarity for the way we expect people and companies to conduct themselves, and the expectations for the outcomes we desire. I think I have a firm grasp on what is practical, and what is necessary, for our environment to thrive and continue to support us – I can’t do it alone, but I’m willing to keep trying with the input, advice and energy of committed people from all sectors, and with expert advice.

What’s the most rewarding part of working/volunteering with CELA?

I have deep respect for the professionalism, the commitment, and the knowledge that CELA has consistently provided to inform governments at all levels, and the public, about the most pressing issues facing our communities today. They offer insight without preaching, a voice to issues that can otherwise go unnoticed, and provide support without question. They have always been thoughtful and inclusive about the issues that I find so important. They help keep me informed and make my work more productive and effective.

What do you think is Canada’s biggest environmental challenge today?

We still fail to see ourselves as part of a bigger whole, and gauge our progress in terms that ignore the underpinnings of our society, like clean water and thriving biodiversity. If we reported regularly on the cleanliness of our lakes and rivers, the status of important species, the prevalence of disease – we might have the required measures that would prompt new standards for “progress”.

How do you think we can best approach this challenge?

Without all sectors working together, we will struggle to achieve a healthy and sustainable planet. That means individual stewardship in our everyday actions; government leadership to establish sound and actionable policy; private sector commitment to sustainability that goes beyond the next quarterly financial report; a finance system that uses longer time horizons and full cost accounting, to incorporate the values provided by our natural capital, our complex biological systems, our carbon sinks, and the costs from human-caused disease and pollution.

If you were the Leader of the World, what environmental law or policy would you implement?

That national and sub national governments would have to regularly set targets and annually report on biodiversity data, water quality and water quantity data, human health statistics. Without measuring you can’t assess progress – we need to understand, appreciate and act on raising our collective state of “wellbeing”.

When you’re not working on Great Lakes issues, what do you like to do?

I love lakes, especially Ontario’s inland lakes. When I can be in, on, or around water, I feel most at peace. Swimming, paddling, waterskiing are part of my DNA. Also: old timers hockey.