Small Victories are Big Steps

The Success of the Nuclear-Weapons Free Ontario Campaign

By David Delaunay | 1987-02-01 12:00:00

Resolution Number One:

That in the opinion of this House, the Province of Ontario, Canada, should declare itself a Nuclear Arms Free Zone and the Government should prohibit

In addition, the province should encourage cities, provinces, and states throughout the world to initiate similar action.

Vote in the Ontario Legislature:


How can one explain such a dramatic shift? First, since 1983, there has been a profound growth in the public concern over peace and disarmament issues. Second, in 1985, the Liberals came to power in an Accord with the NDP. Then, this fall, peace activists worked for ten weeks on the Nuclear Weapons Free Ontario (NWFO) campaign -- to ensure that the resolution would be passed by the 125 member Ontario Legislature.

"Smoke and Mirrors" or "First Steps"?

But what is the victory? Ontario will not actually prohibit the activities listed above. It does not even mean that Ontario has officially declared itself a NWFZ. Was it all worth it?

The NWFO Campaign was launched at the Ontario Peace Conference in September. The 162 participants there had no illusions about the resolution, which has no binding legal status. They realized, however, that it does demonstrate the overwhelming will of the Ontario Legislature. As such, it provides the lever for further developments. As Richard Johnston said when introducing it,

"We are debating here today whether we have the responsibility on this issue, whether we want to say we have power or are powerless (I hope we do not wish to say we are powerless), whether we are sovereign or only pawns in this whole proliferation horror around us, and whether we are tethered by cynicism or liberated by hope."

Given the headlong dash to Armageddon, driven by the calculated madness of clashing powerful interests, the cause of peace and disarmament has small victories. But each one can be a big step if it is followed by other steps.

Education and Lobbying

The central leaflet was entitled "Nuclear Weapons Free Ontario: The Time is Now!". Thirty thousand copies were printed. A poster and a button were also produced. About ninety groups, mainly peace groups and unions, took part in the campaign, distributing leaflets and holding public meetings. At least eighteen municipalities declared themselves nuclear weapons free zones during the campaign, many calling on the Province to do the same.

During Disarmament Week, marches were held in centres like Toronto, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, and Sault Ste. Marie, while NWFO radio ads were playing in Kingston, Sudbury, and Hamilton. Local groups also organized media events to publicize the campaign and its issues.

Young people were very active. Two Brampton high schools held daily debates and ended the week with a positive vote to declare the school nuclear weapons free. A New Liskeard high school took the same vote after a debate between a peace activist and a representative of the Department of National Defence.

Most MPPs were contacted by constituents, often in meetings. Some groups set up letter-writing tables in public places. A local peace group performed guerrilla theatre in the office of a Kitchener MPP. A Cabinet Minister's office was picketed in St. Catharines. And in the week before the vote in the Ontario Legislature, peace people phoned more than eighty groups urging them to get to their MPP one more time. Meanwhile, sympathetic Liberal and Conservative MPPs were meeting with peace activists and lobbying within their own caucuses.

So the resolution passed, and it's a step, not "smoke and mirrors." Where do we go from here? One follow-up is to have the Province of Ontario actually declare Ontario a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, to be marked by signs at the Ontario borders, on government stationery and other symbolic gestures that would popularize the concept and help to make it more acceptable. Manitoba, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and the peace movement might sponsor a conference on NWFZs. Other issues to take up include tritium, conversion, and nuclear armed ships in ports. Richard Johnston will be introducing a private member's bill on conversion of nuclear weapons-related production to peaceful purposes. Finally, there is the matter of building on this declaration in Ontario in a campaign (probably geared to the federal elections) to have Canada declared a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. The follow-up to this declaration sets a full agenda, especially when combined with the other issues before the movement. The next step is waiting to be taken.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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