Awarding Dave McKay, CEO of RBC, the Order of Ontario sends a troubling message about leadership in this time of climate crisis. Earlier this month, the man at the helm of Canada’s top fossil fuel funder received the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest civilian honour.
RBC is Canada’s biggest funder of fossil fuel projects and the fifth-largest funder globally. The company is facing scrutiny from the public as it continues to fund resource extraction projects that violate Indigenous sovereignty and set us further back in our emission reduction targets.
RBC is also under investigation by the Competition Bureau Canada for alleged misleading advertising and greenwashing. As young people coming of age in a time of increasing climate crisis, we are angry to see McKay and RBC honoured in this way.
In justifying the award, the Order of Ontario claims McKay has “undoubtedly impacted the lives of thousands.” We agree. In his tenure as CEO, McKay has impacted the lives of Indigenous communities he’s violated while investing $262 billion in coal, tarsands, oil and gas since 2016.
He has certainly impacted the lives of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, who have faced violence, surveillance and criminalization as they resist the RBC-funded Coastal GasLink pipeline.
McKay’s work has prolonged our reliance on fossil fuels, fuelling climate disasters around the world and spurring elevated rates of climate anxiety, grief and mental health challenges among students and young people. His impact on our lives can be summarized simply: by continuing to fund fossil fuel expansion, McKay is complicit in robbing us of a livable future.
The Order of Ontario nomination also credits McKay’s work giving “youth across the province access to equal opportunity.” McKay touts RBC’s funding and programming for young people, particularly BIPOC students, in a shallow attempt to buy our goodwill. McKay is using youth-oriented investments to create the reputation that RBC is committed to dismantling systemic racism, while at the same time continuing to fund fossil fuel expansion projects that further entrench racial injustice by violating Indigenous sovereignty.
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RBC cannot distract from its complicity in violating Indigenous sovereignty with shallow rhetoric and a small fraction of the wealth it has gained from exploiting Indigenous lands. While McKay’s philanthropy has certainly had a positive impact on some, we must ask ourselves what he and RBC have to gain by creating a public image of social and environmental responsibility.
As a multibillion-dollar company, RBC must maintain a facade of allyship with youth and Indigenous and racialized communities because they rely on our business to turn a profit. The truth is that RBC’s philanthropic efforts are dwarfed in comparison to the billions it lends to the fossil fuel industry.
The actions we choose to uplift and reward reflect our values. By presenting the prestigious Order of Ontario to McKay, the province is sending a message to young people about what kind of leadership is valued here in Ontario.
Amidst intense public criticism of McKay’s leadership at RBC, the province has chosen to legitimize his actions and reward RBC’s greenwashing that has led to violence against Indigenous land defenders.
We call on the provincial government to revoke their choice of McKay for the 2022 Order of Ontario award. We call on McKay to end RBC’s financing of fossil fuel expansion immediately and reject this award as acknowledgment for his contribution to colonialism and climate destruction.
Jordan Thakar is an environmental researcher, environmental chemistry student, and climate justice organizer residing on unceded Six Nations land along the Haldimand Tract and Credit First Nations Territory. Thaker is the lead campaign organizer for the Guelph University RBC-Off Campus Campaign and a member of the Water Watchers board of directors as a student-science representative focused on environmental racism issues.
Dani Michie is the digital campaigner at Banking on a Better Future. A passionate climate justice organizer, she also volunteers with Climate Justice Toronto. She is committed to standing in solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities and fighting for a livable future rooted in care for all living things.
Amy Mann is a second-year math and physics specialist at the University of Toronto. She is the sustainability commissioner on Victoria University Students' Administrative Council (VUSAC) and is also involved in fossil-free research with Climate Justice U of T.
thank you for writing and
thank you for writing and publishing this article.
seems like RBC has some major (re)thinking to do,
and the Ontario Government needs to overhaul how and to whom it awards such the prestigious Order of Ontario.
Disgusting awarding this
Disgusting awarding this Order to a climate destroyer and greedy bank leader that should be charged with environmental abuse not awarded. Sick society that honours morons like this.
What egregious BS.
What egregious BS.
Join Decolonial Solidarity and adopt an RBC branch to rally in front of until they drop fossil fuel funding.