Canada needs real action for climate justice

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Much of the opposition that challenged Stephen Harper was from the Indigenous-led climate justice movement. If the Liberals' campaign slogan "real change" is to mean anything, it must mean real action for climate justice.

This year is the hottest on record, and the recent Hurricane Patricia smashing into Mexico shows what will happen if we don't rapidly reduce carbon emission. The climate crisis is urgent, and what happens in Canada will make a huge difference.

As climate scientist James Hansen warned, "If Canada proceeds [with the tar sands] it will be game over for the climate." Fortunately a climate justice movement is rising.

Climate justice movement

Idle No More emerged in December of 2012 to challenge Harper's attack on environmental legislation and ongoing colonization of Indigenous territories, epitomized by the tar sands.

Since then the climate justice movement has delayed every major pipeline proposal. A wall of First Nations opposition has delayed the Northern Gateway pipeline to the west coast, and last year mass civil disobedience on Burnaby mountain delayed the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The climate justice movement in Ontario and Quebec have delayed the Line 9 and Energy East pipelines, and the movement south of the border pushed Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

This year the climate justice movement mobilized 25,000 in Quebec City and 10,000 in Toronto, and climate justice activists intervened in the election demanding action. The Leap Manifesto, launched in the midst of the election, shows a broad vision for climate justice that goes beyond the ballot box.

Clearly Harper's adversarial approach to the climate justice movement is not working for the 1%, and they are hoping a more friendly face can help expand the tar sands.

Liberal tar sands

The tar sands have always been a joint project between Liberal and Tory governments. Both parties have subsidized the tar sands, and whereas Harper took Canada out of the Kyoto protocol the Liberals simply ignored it and let carbon emissions rise under their rule.

As The Globe and Mail explained,

"In the mid-1990s, with oil prices at depressed levels, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien had to provide tax breaks to rescue the industry, in particular the two major oil sands producers, Suncor and Syncrude Canada Ltd. It wasn't until international crude prices began to soar in 2003–reflecting war in the Middle East and the rise in China's demand–that the oil sands sector found firm economic footing and expansion began in earnest."

Now that a fall in China's demand and a surge in fracked gas has driven down oil prices, the Liberals are again coming to the tar sands' rescue. While the Conservative frontal challenge to the climate justice movement only increased its strength, the Liberals are trying a softer approach of lip service and appeasement while continuing the same policies.

Trudeau's version of "change"

When Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence went on hunger strike against Harper's policies in 2012, Justin Trudeau met with her. "It was deeply moving to meet [Theresa Spence] today. She is willing to sacrifice everything for her people. She shouldn't have to," he said at the time. But Trudeau was not moved on pipelines. The next year, he visited politicians in the U.S. to reassure them that he would continue to support the Keystone XL pipeline. "My support for Keystone is steadfast," he said.

During the first leader's debate in the recent federal election, Trudeau tried to reassure Bay Street that he could promote the tar better than Harper could. Trudeau accused Harper of making the tar sands "a scapegoat around the world for climate change" and of eroding public trust in pipelines. He said that "the job of the prime minister is to get those resources to market" and that he would "restore public trust" and "make sure the right partnerships are in place" to promote tar sands.

Attending Trudeau's victory rally was one of the "partnerships" he was referring to: Phil Fontaine, former head of the Assembly of First Nations, who now runs a consulting firm that pipeline companies use to lobby First Nations and to claim Indigenous support. While Trudeau might support corporate partnerships, he supported Bill C-51 that seeks to criminalize Indigenous resistance to pipelines.

The corporate media are cheering Trudeau's invitation for other parties to join him at the Paris climate talks. But with every major party supporting the tar sands, this is just a cynical attempt to portray a consensus in favour of tar sands and to undermine the climate justice movement.

Real change

But the climate justice movement had no illusions that the election would make real change, and the surge in voters who drove out Harper won't simply accept lip service.

Plans for a "climate welcome" direct action November 5-8 at the prime minister's residence began before the election, and coincided with Obama's rejection of Keystone XL -- putting further pressure on Trudeau.

There will also be protests across the country and around the world on November 29, on the eve of the Paris climate talks. These talks, controlled by the capitalist states who subsidize oil and gas companies, won't stop the climate crisis -- and the French state is cynically using the recent tragic attacks to attack civil liberties and undermine the climate justice movement.

As Naomi Klein explained,

"When governments and corporations knowingly fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence. It is a violence so large, so global and inflicted against so many temporalities simultaneously (ancient cultures, present lives, future potential) that there is not yet a word capable of containing its monstrousness. And using acts of violence to silence the voices of those who are most vulnerable to climate violence is yet more violence." 

That's why we need to build the November 29 mobilizations even larger -- to support Indigenous communities, welcome migrants, stop Islamophobia and war, defend civil liberties and demand climate job alternatives to the tar sands.

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This article originally appaered on and is reprinted with permission.

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