By Alison Bodine, published in Fire This Time, November, 2019 Issue
“We made a decision to move forward on the pipeline because it was in the interest of Canada to do so because the environment and the economy need to go together. We will be continuing with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.” – Prime Minister elect Justin Trudeau, during his first post-election press conference, October 23, 2019
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s quick promise to complete the disastrous Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) project is no surprise. During the 2019 federal election, he always maintained that there was no contradiction between using $4.5 billion tax-payer dollars to buy a dirty tar-sands oil pipeline, while at the same time claiming to be a “climate leader” on the international stage and declaring a “national climate emergency” in Canada.
However, although they are no surprise, Trudeau’s superficial justifications to continue pouring public money into destroying the climate are a near-perfect illustration of the level of debate about climate change and its devastating impacts during the 2019 federal election. Despite what they wanted people in Canada to believe, all the major political parties – the Liberals, Conservatives, the NDP and the Green Party – had little to nothing to offer for the changes that the government of Canada needs to implement urgently in order to fundamentally address the impending climate catastrophe.
Canada’s Federal Election and Climate Change: The Issue That Wasn’t
When people in Canada went to the polls on October 21 for the 2019 federal election there was increasing discussion – and a growing international movement – demanding big changes to “business as usual” to save humanity and the planet. On September 27, 2019, 9 million people protested around the world as part of the Fridays for Future movement led by 16-year old climate activist and leader Greta Thunberg. On this day, 1 million in Canada came out to protests in every Province – including 250,000 people in Vancouver.
This mass mobilization made sure that the climate became front and centre as an issue in the election – however, in response, the Liberals, Conservatives, the NDP and the Green Party all continued to put forward platforms and policies that did little to alter the status quo of climate destruction in Canada. Although each mainstream political parties running in the federal election promised more comprehensive and efficient climate solutions than all the others – none of them provided a plan of the scope and scale to make the changes required to bring Canada in-line with even the modest climate targets that the government committed to during the 2015 Paris Climate Agreements.
For example, the Liberals, NDP, and the Green Party all promised net-zero emissions by 2050, but boiled down to the basics, their plans were all rhetoric with no blueprint of how to achieve the target. From bad to worse, all the parties stood in the same line, among other climate change policies:
- The NDP promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2005 by 2030
- Green party -promised to cut emissions by 60% from 2005 by 2030
- Bloc Québécois – promised to support policies in line with the tougher 1.5C goal of the UN climate agreements
- The Liberal Party made promises to plant 2 billion trees to help cover-up their commitment to build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. However, after 4-years of Trudeau, Canada is nowhere closer to meeting its UN climate commitments then in 2015
- The Conservative Party put their hopes and dreams into businesses coming up with technological solutions. A study by Clean Prosperity, found that their plan would increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions
However, no party provided the “how” to achieve their promises in enough detail to give any confidence that the greenhouse gas reduction targets would be met.
In the end, what might be most indicative of the lack of political will to discuss climate change is that there wasn’t even the push from any party for a Canada-wide climate debate. When one was scheduled, it was cancelled after the Conservative party was unable to find a candidate to participate – effectively squashing a discussion all the parties were claiming was significant. On top of this, 48,000 people signed a petition calling on the CBC host a climate debate with the party leaders – but the supposedly public broadcasting network declined to plan a debate – while that the same time insisting that climate was a critical issue in the election, a clear practice of hypocrisy.
Thus, climate change became the election issue that wasn’t an election issue. If the 2019 federal election showed anything it was that elections and campaigning do not address climate change – but people through mobilization and organizing will.
Vancouver Discusses – The Federal Election and the Climate Crisis What are Our Expectations, and What Do We Do the Day After the Election?
When organizers in Vancouver’s grassroots climate justice coalition Climate Convergence took a look at the political landscape in the weeks leading up to the federal election, it was clear how important it was for the climate justice movement to look at the federal election in the framework of our urgent and ongoing work to build a just and sustainable world.
In order to accomplish this, Climate Convergence organized a forum on October 11, 2019, at the Vancouver Public Library. Speakers at the forum, Thomas Davies, a founding member of Climate Convergence, Gene McGuckin from BROKE and Alison Bodine from Climate Convergence and the Editorial Board of the Fire This Time Newspaper framed the discussion for the forum – challenging people to think beyond which political party will win – and towards the kind of climate justice movement that we need to build.
As soon as the discussion period began in the packed house people were expressing their frustration at the lack of urgency and action around the critical issues of climate change during the federal election – and during the last 4-years of the Liberal government. People were also quick to recall the promises that Trudeau had made during the 2015 election – but at the same time also expressed their lack of confidence in any of the other political parties, and their reluctance to spend another election voting for the “lesser evil.”
This public forum, and the dynamic discussion that followed continued an important dialogue about the kind of government that Canada and the world need – a climate justice government that will no longer line the pockets of corporate oil executives in exchange for our future.
Right to Life!
Just following the federal election – Vancouver’s Sustainabiliteens were out for their 9th Climate Strike on October 25, 2019. This time the level of excitement and outrage at the government of Canada’s inaction towards combating climate change was amplified by the presence of Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish woman that has ignited the world-wide Fridays for Future movement.
The Sustainabiliteens action brought more than 15,000 people out to the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza on short notice. The rally and march also began with a press conference announcing that 15 young people from across Canada were suing the Federal government of Canada for violating their Charter Rights. Through Our Children’s Trust and the David Suzuki Foundation these young people are taking the government of Canada’s inaction to court for denying them their “right to life, liberty and security of person” as per Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also their equality rights under Section 15.
Significantly, in the week before coming to Vancouver Greta Thunberg also spoke in Edmonton, Alberta, where 15,000 people came out to the Provincial Legislature. This was a significant show of support from one of the cities that is the heart of the oil and gas industry in Canada.
When Greta spoke to the energized crowd at the end of the rally in Vancouver, she did so to remind people of the negligence of so-called world leaders and corporate giants when it came to making changes required to fight climate change decades ago. As she said,
“Severn [Cullis-Suzuki, who spoke at an international Climate Conference in 1992 and was also at the rally with Greta] told the world everything the world needed to know 27 years ago and the science told us, told our world leaders everything they needed to know 27 years ago. If people would have listened back then, the world would be a completely different place than it is today. But the world ignored her, and world leaders continued to choose to look away from this crisis, even today.”
No to the TMX Pipeline Expansion! Organize, Educate, Moblize!
In October 2019 the Keystone Pipeline which runs from Alberta to Nebraska and Illinois in the U.S. leaked 383,000 gallons of oil into North Dakota wetlands. This was the second big spill in two years – because no matter what the big oil companies say, profits will always come before safety and environment – and the best-built pipelines will continue to leak, and the best-built tanks will explode.
This disaster is exactly what people protesting the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion are working to prevent. With Prime Minister Trudeau continuing to push full force with this project, we must continue building a more united and stronger climate justice movement. In Vancouver, this means supporting the ongoing work of Climate Convergence, Extinction Rebellion, BROKE, Sustainabiliteens, Mountain Protectors and other grassroots groups.
On Thursday, November 14, 2019, Climate Convergence and SFU-350 are working together to organize an event on Burnaby Mountain. With a rally and teach-in, the action will highlight the extreme danger of expanding the already-existing tank farm on Burnaby Mountain, which will come as a result of the TMX pipeline. Already there are reports about how it could take as long as 6 hours to respond to a major fire, which would have the potential to takes lives and destroy homes and environment on the mountain.
Build an Anti-capitalist Climate Justice Movement
Beyond the TMX pipeline, we must also continuously push for the government of Canada to meet and exceed their climate change reduction targets – and Canada has a long way to go. Take away the nice words about protecting the ocean and planting trees and Canada is in the same climate-destroying club as the United States and the world’s biggest polluters. According to a report card released by the Climate Action Network, “current policies are consistent with global warming exceeding 4 C compared to pre-industrial levels, more than twice the stated goal of the Paris agreement of staying as close to 1.5 C as possible.”
It is also important to understand that Canada has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per person of any country in the G20. The newly elected Federal government has shown no signs that they are slowing down the government of Canada’s path towards climate catastrophe. It is up to us that believe in a future for humanity on this planet that must organize for system change, not climate change, in Canada, and around the world.
The struggles of people against massive resource extraction projects are startlingly similar between places like Standing Rock, North Dakota and the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil. No one country, no one group, will be able to solve the climate crisis by itself – by its nature, the struggle for a sustainable world requires international cooperation, solidarity and more importantly unity across borders in order to become a powerful and effective force.
To get involved with climate justice organizing in Vancouver with Climate Convergence and for information on upcoming meetings, events and outreach actions visit www.climateconvergence.ca.
*Featured Image: The beginnings of System Change Not Climate, marching as the Ecosocialist Contingent in Washington D.C.
Alison Bodine is a social justice activist, author and researcher in Vancouver, Canada. She is the author of “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Venezuela” (Battle of Ideas Press, 2018). Alison is coordinator of the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in Vancouver and is also a founding member of the Campaign to End U.S./Canada Sanctions Against Venezuela, and a member of the Venezuela Strategy Group. @alisoncolette