By James Kosowan, Edmonton, writing for Canadian Dimension.
On 3 March 2004, the planet lost one of its greatest defenders. Tooker Gomberg, a former Edmonton City Councillor and tireless environmental and social justice activist, succumbed to depression by taking his own life. He was 48 years old.
Tooker was a truly extraordinary individual. Hypocrisy certainly had no claims on him. His lifestyle perfectly mirrored his preachings – an advocate for social justice, a peace activist, a devoted cyclist, an ardent vegetarian, and a committed environmentalist. He was absolutely resolute in his beliefs and his integrity served to inspire countless others.
With intelligence and often with humour, Tooker challenged people to think about the destructive impact of our current society’s lifestyles and the ecological deficit being passed on to successive generations because of our seemingly insatiable greed and abhorrent lack of foresight. He piqued politicians, prodded corporate executives, and cajoled the public to take better care of the planet we call home.
Seemingly limitless as well was Tooker’s passion and the energy he brought to any cause he took up – and there were many, from triumphing the causes of recycling and composting, working to protect arable farmland and limit urban sprawl, fighting for better public transit, demanding more investment into alternative energy sources, protesting the New World Order of American hegemony, decrying homelessness and poverty, to demonstrating the simplicity and practicality of cycling as a mode of urban transportation. He was a big-picture guy with unflagging optimism in the potential of human beings to overcome any obstacle.
Tooker also fully understood that activism in and of itself was not going to radically alter society and result in better stewardship of the planet. Hence, engaging in the political realm was absolutely crucial to achieve fundamental change in society. Thus, in addition to his activism, he endeavored to be a force for change in the political arena by running as a candidate in a number of elections.
Tooker loved elections. He liked the fact that they brought people together to work for a common cause. He also felt that ordinary people, normally too caught up in the pressures of everyday living, were more receptive to new ideas and more willing to consider alternatives to the status quo as they sought to choose a representative at the local, provincial, or national level.
His first attempt at local politics in 1989 was not successful in a conventional sense (he did not get elected), but his campaign brought together a diverse group of people and helped raise awareness about environmental and social justice issues.
In 1992, Tooker was elected to Edmonton City Council in a grassroots effort involving hundreds of volunteers. In turn, Edmontonians were rewarded with a new type of councilor whose tremendous creativity would be at work full time and then some for the betterment of the city. It was a fruitful relationship.
Perhaps his greatest legacy to the citizens of Edmonton was in convincing the council of the day to opt for water conservation over a costly expansion of the local water treatment plant. The result was the implementation of a water conservation program for the city, which has reduced water usage, helped the environment, and saved Edmonton ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade.
There were numerous other initiatives, too many to enumerate in a short article. Suffice it to say, Tooker’s term on Edmonton City Council had an enormous impact on the city and continues to do so.
After his term, Tooker and his wife, Angela Bischoff, began a Greenspiration odyssey, a bicycle tour of world destinations to search out good-news environmental initiatives. It took them to various places in Canada, Cuba, Japan, China, and Vietnam. They met amazing people and his writings became more prolific as a result.
Always up to a challenge, Tooker also found the time to run federally for the NDP in Montreal in 1997, for mayor of Edmonton in 1998, and he took a run at Toronto’s mayoralty race in 2000, where he finished second with over 50,000 votes. His intent was always the same – not necessarily to win, although that would have been an added bonus, but to engage the public and exchange ideas, perhaps to inspire them to envision a better world.
Tooker was perhaps an idealist. He sincerely believed that every individual can make a profound difference in the world.
He certainly did.