By Monica Mason and Niklas Agarwal
After attending PowerShift Young and Rising — a mass convergence of youth taking action to tackle the climate crisis — this February, in Ottawa, Toronto attendees were fired up and ready to kick-start momentum on a Green New Deal for Canada. The spark came just in time for a Jagmeet Singh town-hall on March 7thwhere a group of PowerShifters met up, organized their friends, and developed a loose plan to coordinate a series of Green New Deal questions for Jagmeet and sound-test where the federal NDP’s priorities on jobs, reconciliation, and climate change lie. The NDP focus at this point seems to mostly be on plastic straws.
Research shows that Canadian voters are less clear on Jagmeet Singh’s position on climate change than they are of Justin Trudeau’s. Several town-hall questions asked Jagmeet how the NDP might present a bolder vision for Canadians on housing, healthcare, and the environment than the current lukewarm status quo.
Our drafted questions focused on our personal lives; how most of us are under the age of 30 and will live to see the most catastrophic climate impacts as well as the precarity of employment our generation is currently experiencing. We also wanted to press Jagmeet on larger issues such as how he sees climate justice tying in with the fight for Indigenous sovereignty, an issue on which he has been disappointingly non-committal.
Other town-hall attendees independently had similar thoughts and in the first half hour, Jagmeet was asked about the NDP’s commitment to real climate action and how this could be integrated with poverty-reduction and good jobs. He acknowledged that climate impacts are happening currently and are no longer just a far off future, referencing a conversation he had with a family in B.C. concerned about this past summer’s wildfires. He said it was imperative for the NDP “to commit to doing something” and he also mentioned that the scale of action needed must be proportional to the issue.
When asked if he would commit point blank to campaigning on a Green New Deal he said that yes.
Jagmeet elaborated that his plan would include “not just a shift but a transformation” encompassing public transit, housing retrofits, and supporting farmers.
We were excited by this bold commitment from Jagmeet Singh but we also noted that in his references to a “green economy of the future,” he didn’t mention a federal job guarantee (integral in our opinions), as well as a transition plan for fossil-fuel sector workers. When asked about a strategy to transition frontline workers he referenced ending fossil fuel sector subsidies (already a Liberal promise that has yet to materialize) as well as “planning ahead” for jobs that aren’t tied to boom and bust cycles over the next century. He also didn’t reference stringent emissions targets in line with the IPCC (50% in 11 years), as well as the key role that Indigenous frontline communities and land defenders play in climate justice work. Nor was there a message that care workers and precarious workers are most affected by climate change and hail from communities which have historically contributed the least to global emissions. It was notable that Jagmeet did not use the phrase “Green New Deal” when speaking about an NDP climate plan.
When we spoke to the crowd of NDP supporters we noticed a high level of name recognition for the concept of a Green New Deal but little idea of what this platform might look in Canada.
The original New Deal in the US was a state-led transformation of the economy and the creation of massive social nets to support working-class families — and it can be done again. However, that movement was led by workers and labour organizers and a Green New Deal needs to center labour again if there is any hope of broad success. That’s why as climate organizers we are moving to build alliances with labour organizations such as the Fight for $15 and Fairness, but we can’t do it alone.
We need our political leaders to recognize that workers and the climate are both suffering under runaway capitalism, and only a complete transformation of the economy can solve both issues.
We felt that Jagmeet didn’t articulate the depth of this concept. As the party historically of the working-class, we need the NDP to step up to the plate. Without this nuance and joint effort, promises of ending subsidies can come across as environmental attacks to labour groups who work in precarious boom-bust industries because decent work has been virtually wiped out.
Overall, climate was the most referenced issue at the town-hall and was brought up mostly by younger attendees. However, two older attendees with unrelated questions referenced the Green New Deal by name when speaking, demonstrating the sheer popularity of the plan. We distributed 100 flyers that day and we saw the result of that effort. When we spoke to the NDP supporters attending the event, it was clear that there was substantial excitement for the Green New Deal in the crowd — but also many questions about what implementation could look like in Canada. It felt incredible to see the enthusiasm for intersectional and grounded climate action — it’s time for politicians to commit to real climate justice.
As five young people who barely knew each other a week ago it was an incredibly inspiring moment because we were able to shift the conversation just by showing up strategically.
We urge other young people across the country to step up and go to the various town halls parties will be having in the upcoming months. If we could do it in three days with zero money you definitely can pull something off. Tell your politicians step up for a Green New Deal for Canada or step aside. We have an opportunity in the 2019 election to elect amazing progressives with a bold visions for tackling climate action and inequality who will be running in the upcoming nomination battles and election. And since young people and millennials will be the largest voting block in this election, we have the power to change the direction this country is headed in. So let’s get organized. Most importantly, we urge you to make relations and partnerships with labour and economic justice groups. Our planet and future depends on it.
This action was organized by a loose coalition of attendees of the PowerShift conference and their friends. We’re continuing to organize in Toronto and organize our political leadership. This movement is grassroots and if you want to do something similar — do it!