Citizens lead during Canadian climate consultations
At the GLOBE 2016 sustainable business conference in Vancouver this spring, Prime Minister Trudeau was keynote speaker for a mixed crowd of business people, investors, and sustainability workers. I was excited, because in the federal election that made him Prime Minister, Trudeau made encouraging comments about a renewed national commitment to action on global warming and clean energy.
As a divestment campaigner working to end public investment in fossil fuels and an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia studying Natural Resource Conservation, I was eager to hear from my newly-elected Prime Minister. I wanted to hear more details about the national climate strategy promised in the 2015 election. I hoped that Trudeau and our new Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna would use this conference as an opportunity to signal their plans for climate action. And I was impatient.
Like many I studied and worked with, recognizing decades of inaction on the global warming threat by prior governments led to a growing sense of urgency. At 17-years-old, I came to understand the injustice and peril of the Harper era as a key moment; a time when climate science was denied, Indigenous rights suppressed, and environmental safeguards diluted.
Watching a majority government do so much damage left me cautious, though hopeful, when looking to the new Liberal government to deliver their promised climate leadership. As I waited for Trudeau to speak to the GLOBE conference audience, I wanted so badly to be reassured that the Liberals would take a definitive stance in addressing the climate crisis.
At the beginning of Trudeau’s speech I sat poised, hanging off of every word, waiting to hear an announcement about national renewable energy targets or ending fossil fuel subsidies or how they would be supporting communities who are most at risk from the climate crisis. However, as the speech went on, I found myself inching further and further back into my seat as the Prime Minister inched further and further away from the electoral climate promises he made. I could feel my anger and frustration rising with each repetition of the rally cry, “The time to lead is now.”
Well, at least he was right about that. The time to lead is now.
In fact, the time to lead on climate action and clean energy in Canada was yesterday. Despite ambitious and even exciting language during the election, Liberal action-to-date can be summarized by back-pedalled promises on pipelines, Indigenous rights, and fossil fuel subsidies.
Our government must follow through on the commitments it made to voters and to the international community at the Paris climate talks. Canada needs strong climate leadership — and it’s clear that Canada’s citizens need to play that leadership role.
Thousands of constituents have done just that through the People’s Climate Plan. The People’s Climate Plan calls for a federal climate action strategy that keeps global warming below 1.5 degrees, builds a 100% renewable energy economy that works for transitioning fossil fuel workers, and enshrines justice and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples. By having overwhelming numbers of Canadians stand up in support of this shared vision, we are showing that the we expect more of the Liberal government than hopeful rhetoric. We expect real climate action. Communities across Canada are demonstrating that the political will is there for the Liberal government to implement the needed strategies and policies to address the climate crisis.
This summer, over 6,000 Canadians have attended climate consultations with their Members of Parliament across the country, speaking up for an ambitious National Climate Strategy.
This summer in Toronto, I worked with Leadnow, a national democracy promotion group, to get citizens participating in the government’s national climate change consultation and encourage MPs to host town halls. Leadnow as a part of the People’s Climate Plan coalition has been instrumental in uniting Canadians coast to coast behind a shared vision of real climate action and participatory democracy. Since the end of April there have been 82 climate town halls, but getting these meetings didn’t come easy. Along with hundreds of other Canadians, over 200 Leadnow supporters called MPs urging them to host a climate town hall.
The People’s Climate Plan brought together over 50 local organizers across Canada who are leading and empowering their communities to call for bold climate action. Local teams of volunteers are hosting canvassing events, trainings, webinars, and briefing meetings to educate and support people in their community.
More than 40 groups are included in the People’s Climate Plan coalition, including 350.org, Council of Canadians and Climate Reality. As part of my summer job, I have been convening and supporting these groups and volunteers over weekly calls, emails and coffee shop meetings.
Working with Leadnow on the People’s Climate Plan these past couple of months has shown me how truly inspiring and impactful people powered change is. Team members from Leadnow’s offices in Toronto and Vancouver, as well as People’s Climate Plan coalition partners, have imparted organizing and community relations practices that have heightened my own movement-building skills.
Canadians like me are waiting to see if these consultations were sincere and if our Members of Parliament are listening to the science and the public on climate change.
Prime Minister Trudeau, you are right. The time to lead is now. We’re doing our part to ensure that Canada becomes a climate leader, now it’s your turn.