The Peoples for Mother Earth march is nearing the end of its 34-day cross-province journey through towns and cities in Quebec which would be affected by prospective tar sands pipelines. In the past month, as the marchers have made their way from Cacouna towards their end-goal of Kanehsata:ke, they have taken actions and seen concrete effects beginning to emerge already.
From the beginning, the marchers have attempted to tap into the already-existing network of resistance to shale gas projects which prevented — if only temporarily — fracking in this province. One group which was at the forefront of that struggle was called the Regroupement Interregional Contre les Gaz de Schiste de la Vallee du St-Laurent (Interregional Group Against Shale Gas in the St-Lawrence Valley). This group has, one week ago, changed its name to Regroupement Vigilance Hydrocarbeurs Québec (Carbon Vigilance Group Québec) [RVHQ] — expanding its struggle to include pipelines and all fossil fuel projects.
Other organizations have emerged as well, and are in the process of mobilizing opposition to tar sands pipelines. Some of the most prominent have emerged under the name STOP Oleoduc (STOP pipeline); the organizational structure of which involves completely decentralized chapters in each town through which Energy East passes. These localized organizations together, among others, have created the Coule Pas Chez Nous (Don’t Spill in my Home) campaign. Along with RVHQ and other organizations, the Peoples for Mother Earth are beginning to see opposition to the pipelines grow stronger by the day.
Within the march itself, door-to-door pamphleting and petition-signing has been successful to date. The marchers who volunteer to go door-to-door have, so far, gathered an amount of signatures which numbers in the thousands for the Coule Pas Chez Nous petition. That does not include any who sign online or when approached by representatives of STOP Oleoduc — who have also been working hard to gather signatures for the petition. When all those three options are combined, the number of signatories is likely enormous.
Apart from the symbolic importance of walking 700 kilometres across the province to protest the pipeline and signature gathering, the marchers have engaged in various other forms of action. From street demonstrations to culture-jamming and confrontations with prominent pipeline supporters, the march has employed a highly varied diversity in its tactics.
In Levis — a sister city to the province’s capital of Quebec City — the marchers engaged in a particularly illustrative action. Levis-Bellechasse is one of only five of Quebec’s 75 total electoral seats which is controlled by a member of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. The representative, Steven Blaney, is a proponent of tar sands expansion and associated infrastructure projects such as Energy East. He has repeatedly turned down interview requests by concerned citizens in his district whose land is on the proposed route of the pipeline. His decision to support the project was made without the consent of his constituents.
As a result, the marchers showed up outside Blaney’s office and sent two individuals inside to request his presence for a discussion. When Blaney walked outside, he was greeted by the Peoples for Mother Earth standing silently in the parking lot with pieces of duct tape over their mouths; symbolizing Blaney’s having ignored his constituents who exhibited concern over Energy East. What followed was a discussion between Blaney and two predetermined delegates from the march, covering the project and its ramifications, the antidemocratic nature of Blaney’s decision to support Energy East without consulting citizens, and the nature of his responsibility as an elected representative. Blaney, nervous but clearly adept at verbal maneuvering, managed to dodge every question without taking a firm position.
After taking a ferry across the river to Quebec City the next morning, the marchers were greeted by hundreds of people who were opposed to the tar sands, which together formed a large demonstration in the provincial capital. The artistic talents of the protesters were on full display — a large cardboard drawing of a beluga whale drenched in oil which could be worn as a helmet, a long piece of aluminum tubing with a snake as a head (symbolizing the pipeline), and all kinds of original placards were seen throughout the demonstration.
The demonstration made its way to the front of the provincial parliament — the national assembly — and proceeded to hear the speeches of multiple prominent individuals, all of whom were voicing opposition to Energy East and the tar sands in general. Indigenous leaders, decision makers from Greenpeace, and local activists made speeches which applauded the initiative of the Peoples for Mother Earth march and denounced the tar sands (as well as the Harper regime which has made promoting the latter its main project as a government). Similar protests took place in the cities of Trois-Rivieres, and Terrebonne.
The city of Montreal saw the largest street-demonstration to date, with droves of people protesting alongside the Peoples for Mother Earth on June 7. The protest was technically illegal according to Montreal’s anti-protest P-6 bylaw — put into place to calm the storm of the 2012 student uprising — but luckily no police aggression took place that day. The protest was led around Square Victoria — renamed “The People’s Square” since Occupy Montreal — and ran “laps” around the square in a satire of the Montreal Grand Prix which took place the same weekend.
When the marchers were in Saint Sulpice, a delegation was sent to the National Energy Board (NEB) public consultation on TransCanada’s various pipeline projects. The delegation donned business suits as well as clown wigs and bright red noses; followed NEB representatives around and — before the NEB had the chance to speak to citizens — said “Welcome to the NEB! We would just like to remind you that we do not care about your concerns. We are happy to exclude you from the democratic process. If you have any questions, feel free to keep them to yourself!” The NEB representatives, while remaining outwardly calm, were clearly not impressed.
So what, if any, have been the effects of these actions? The results are already tangible. At least five towns — St-Andre, L’Islet, St-Augustin, Lanoraie and St-Sulpice –have passed municipal legislation rejecting the Energy East pipeline, which vary slightly in how strongly they reject the pipeline. St Augustin has required that an environmental review be conducted before any potential approval. While this may seem tepid, and environmental review would undoubtedly show future ecological disaster should the pipeline be passed — therefore preventing local approval in that town. St-Andre, Lanoraie and St-Sulpice have all passed legislation which unconditionally rejects the pipeline, and L’Islet has passed a bill which categorically rejects all potential pipeline projects on its land.
The battle is far from over. TransCanada has yet to even submit its Energy East project to the NEB for approval, but are currently in the process of amassing social capital in order to present their project as having the consent of those affected. The Peoples for Mother Earth are attempting to act as a counterforce to the overwhelming power of the tar sands industry in general. Through popular education and the mobilizing of activist networks, the pipelines can be beat. So while this struggle is undoubtedly a case of David vs. Goliath, we must always remember who the winner was in that apt parable. The odds appear to be against us, but the power of mobilized money stands no chance against the power of mobilized people.