Photo: Yohann Ducasse

Quebec culture and politics are foreign to Canada’s oil industry, and to the English-speaking climate movement. This is changing.  

TransCanada is proposing a pipeline bigger than its infamous Keystone XL, named Energy East, to be built through the province. Enbridge hopes to soon reverse its Line 9 to Montreal. Bitumen just started arriving by rail in Sorel-Tracy to be shipped out via the St Lawrence River on mega-tankers.

Quebec is now key to the oil industry’s plan to get bitumen out of the ground and out of the country as fast as possible.  

A grassroots resistance movement has been forming in la belle province. As in other places, there is a concerted push for it to be “about much more than the arrival of tar sands in Quebec,” as Alyssa Symons-Belanger, an unaffiliated organizer, puts it. It is about transforming our relationship to the earth and each other

Many people in Quebec are at the beginning stages of organizing and can use support and encouragement from anglophone communities. There are also many lessons to be learned from the movement in Quebec.

So how is the resistance coming together in Quebec?

“It is decentralized and it is citizen-led,” says Symons-Belanger of the resistance. “NGO’s can’t be everywhere. We need citizens in the locations organizing.”

Citizen-led campaigns like Coule Pas Chez Nous! (Don’t Spill in Our Home!) and the umbrella movement Stop Oléoduc (Stop Pipelines) are bringing people together. People taking initiative together in their communities is how sizable protests in recent weeks in Cacouna, site of TransCanada’s proposed port, and Sorel-Tracy also on the St. Lawrence. 

The big NGOs Equiterre and Greenpeace have let citizen energy and organizing carry the movement along. Sidney Ribaux of Equiterre wrote enthusiastically that the movement is so strong because it is citizen-led. While staying out of the media spotlight (though the media keeps trying to drag them into it), the big green groups have been good at getting networking happening, publishing educational resources and occasionally helping organize events.

While much of the organizing in citizens groups is led by the older generation, a group of young people brought the energy for the 700km La Marche des Peuple Pour la Terre Mère (Peoples’ Walk for Mother Earth) this spring. La Marche went through communities along the proposed Energy East route holding events connecting people who may have been isolated in their opposition to TansCanada’s pipeline. This group organized in a horizontal consensus-based model, with every day beginning with all 30-70 walkers sitting in a circle to discuss what they would be doing. 

The same organizing principles and a number of the same people formed the foundation of were used for Camp Ligne 9, a 16-day outdoor gathering this fall that brought people together from all over Quebec and as far as western Ontario. Participants held workshops, discussed strategy, cooked, sang, danced, and did the dishes together. The camp, as with La Marche, was put on without paid staff, without a participation fee, on a very low budget and without significant assistance from NGOs.

“People are realizing the work we are forced to do in our society isn’t fulfilling, it isn’t what they believe in,” says Symons-Belanger, who was involved in organizing La Marche and the camp, when asked why people in Quebec are getting involved in the movement. “So they are doing this [activism] because they need to, because it is what feeds them.”

The activism is not peripheral to one’s life, not extra-curricular. For many, it is core. It is central to their purpose. At the camp, active participant Alexandre Brunet notes that his favourite aspect of the event is “the community life, of living and working together working to get off of dirty energy.”

While the task of societal transformation is heavy, invlolved and long, the spirit of the movement in Quebec is often festive.

For example, The Chorale du Peuple (People’s Choir) is an open group formed during Occupy Montreal that writes and sings songs for protests. The infectious choruses and sharp, funny commentary get people nearby hooked and joining in. The songs they put together for La Marche are now well known by many in the Quebec climate movement. Be it art or cooking or song, people are contributing to make a lively and supportive movement in Quebec how they can.

Language and historical divides maintain solitudes and prevent collaborations but these chasms are beginning to be bridged. “I am extremely inspired to see the solidarity and the unity that is beginning to take place here in Quebec,” noted Ellen Gabriel, a Kanienkeha:ka (Mohwak) human rights activist, at the closing press conference of La Marche in Kanehsatake. Though she was referring more to burgeoning indigenous-settler unity, the movement has seen anglophones learning and engaging in French, transfering information that may be widely known in English netowrks but hasn’t yet crossed the language barrier.

Climate activists around the continent can share stories and tools from the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway resistances with people in Quebec. This will at times require translation work be done. Important and popular resources from all over need to be translated. Subtitles on videos and translated brochures and PDFs are easily added missing ingredients. Small monetary investments in translation by organizations will go a long way, especially when anglophones hope to work with people in Quebec on a campaign or in organizing gatherings. 

Aurore Fauret, an organizer and translator, emphasizes “political bilingualism” for anglophones intending to engage in Quebec activism. Aspects of sovereignty, class and decolonization continue to feature prominently in the ongoing social movement landscape and cannot be ignored when engaging in Quebec, just as the language dynamics cannot be ignored.

To be working in solidarity with the people in Quebec doing resistance work, one does not need to speak French or go to Quebec. Part of solidarity is doing the necessary work where you are, how you can, while knowing that other people elsewhere are doing the same. 

The oil industry is trying to move ahead with fossil fuel infrastructure expansion seemingly everywhere. The growing movement in Quebec is something to watch and to interact with respectfully in hopes that by working together the movement succeeds in not just halting the next project but in bringing about much needed social transformation. 

David Gray-Donald studied Environment & Biology at McGill University then worked there facilitating community sustainability projects and doing corporate social responsibility consulting. He is actively part of the struggle to undo our reliance on fossil fuels and is trying to educate himself on how to be a responsible adult male. He lives in Montreal and Toronto.

Photo: Yohann Ducasse