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The Hero Ontario’s Forests Deserve: Windsor resident’s petition garners nearly 100,000 signatures

Posted: October 4, 2019

 

Sambath Kumaar in a tea plantation near where he grew up in Tamil Naru, southern India. The deforestation to plant tree taught Kumaar of the importance of forests. Photo courtesy Sambath Kumaar.

Close your eyes and picture the Ontarian who would start a petition to save a provincial tree-planting program. It is unlikely that your mind would conjure up Sambath Kumaar Balasubramanian Thangamani.

It has been, indeed, an unlikely path that led Kumaar from his native India to a kind of cult status as the Windsor engineer who helped save the 50 Million Tree Program.

Kumaar, an only child, grew up in Valparai, in Tamil Naru state in the south of India; his first language is Tamil. In India, he earned a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering.

At age 23, Kumaar immigrated to Canada. Why? “Freedom,” he says. “I am running my own life now.”

Kumaar chose Windsor, Ontario to pursue a Master of Automotive Engineering. He worked for four months at a co-op placement in the Chrysler plant in Brampton. That experience landed him a job at KPMG Windsor. He helps manufacturers qualify for federal tax credits.

At the same time, Kumaar cares deeply about sustainability, a sensitivity he traces to his homeland.

“There is a lot of deforestation in India to make way for tea plantations,” said Kumaar, now 28, speaking from his home in Sandwich Town, next to the Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor to Detroit, Michigan.

“Whole hillsides have lost their trees,” Kumaar continued. “It’s astonishing to look at – but upsetting because those mountains had their natural ecosystems, the trees and the wildlife.”

In April, a friend of Kumaar’s sent him a link to a news story about Ontario’s decision to cut funding for the 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP).

“I had seen them cut the dollars for flood control in Windsor-Essex, and I have seen a lot of houses get submerged in floods in the past two or three years,” Kumaar said. “In the face of evidence that climate change is real and is right in front of our eyes, it started to bother me. I see the trend of going against science and going against evidence. So when I saw the news about the 50 MTP on Facebook or Twitter, I was triggered. I said, ‘Okay, something has to be done.’”

Kumaar started a petition on Change.org: “Rescind the order to cancel the funding for Ontario’s 50 Million Trees Program.” He wrote, “We need trees, we need green cover for a sustainable future.” He posted the petition under some of Doug Ford’s tweets. Then he waited.

“In one or two weeks the number of signatures was up to 30,000,” said Kumaar. “That was quite surprising. I didn’t expect it to get past several thousand. It was unbelievable, the pace at which it was going up.”

Kumaar’s petition helped raise widespread awareness of the 50 MTP funding cancellation. In  June the Government of Canada stepped in, offering $15 million over four years to continue the program. Still, Kumaar decided to leave up his petition, which at press time counts 98,658 signatures. The Windsor Star then wrote a story about Kumaar’s success.

“I would not say that the victory is there yet,” said Kumaar, who returned to India this summer to wed in an arranged marriage. “I am hoping that the provincial government actually makes a commitment to the program. Our self-interest must include nature.”