CAPE was founded in 1993 by Dr. Warren Bell (who remains on our Board of Directors), Dr. Trevor Hancock, and Dr. Tee Guidotti. The three met at the first annual Conference on Human and Ecosystem Health in Ottawa. Dr. Bell had seen many patients come into his clinic with health issues he strongly suspected were caused by environmental issues. There was a feeling of frustration from all three doctors that these issues weren’t being addressed by the health community. When the organization was first founded, the members of the organization did their own environmental volunteer work and came to each other for support.
In the early years of CAPE, its activities were linked with and partially supported by the Tricouncil EcoResearch Chair in Environmental Risk Management at the University of Alberta, held by Dr. Steve Hrudey. By tying the development of the organization to the Chair’s activities in risk communication and professional education, the new organization could benefit from office support from the University as an academic activity and could also serve as a proving ground for new ideas and approaches in professional development. However, the governance and the agenda of the Association has always been controlled by its officers and members.
Looking back, it is possible to identify three distinct phases of development in CAPE’s early years:
Start-up, from 1993 to the 1995 AGM. In this phase, the organization was a wish, not a reality, and consisted of like-minded professionals who wanted this thing to succeed. Having an official identity and charitable number did not guarantee success, of course. Involving the tiny membership in the affairs of the organization and the development of a reasonable agenda were the paramount concerns. Even so, our efforts won the attention of ISDE and we soon developed a profile within ISDE far out of proportion to our small size.
Consolidation, from the 1995 to the 1997 AGMs. In this phase, we got our feet on the ground, got organized, put the Newsletter on a more or less regular quarterly basis, and prepared ourselves to act as spokespersons on complicated environmental issues. The emphasis was on education, organizational details, and setting priorities among the many items that could be on CAPE’s agenda of activities. We showed our potential by presenting our views at important conferences and by submitting important briefing documents on policy matters (with Dr. Peter Carter, in particular, taking the lead). The membership grew, but the organization remained small.
Expansion, from 1997 through today. In the current phase, we have our act together but we know that expanding our membership and resource base is critical to the organization’s future. If CAPE is to fulfill its potential as a voice of Canadian medicine on environmental affairs, it must continue to grow, establish relationships with other organizations and develop a funding base.
CAPE is an ambitious organization, full of potential, limited only by its current size and funding. The imagination, influence and visibility that this small organization has already shown are impressive. The next few years will show how well we meet this potential.