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Trudeau's climate COP-out

Jesse McLaren

November 4, 2016

“In 2015, the Liberal government got elected on promises to take climate action and they are failing on that promise. We need ambitious leadership that starts with freezing tar sands expansion and committing to building a renewable energy economy that works for people and workers. The first step is to reject Kinder Morgan this December.” This is how Gabriel D’Astous from explained the climate justice group’s interruption of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on November 1.

November 4 is the anniversary of Trudeau’s swearing in as Prime Minister, and the day that the Paris Climate Agreement takes effect—nearly 11 months after it was negotiated at the COP21 conference in Paris last December. As Trudeau said at the time, “I am proud of the role Canada is playing in reaching this historic and balanced agreement, and I am confident that the world will rise to the challenge of addressing climate change.”

While climate change is a historic challenge, the “balance” that the agreement struck was to set urgent goals of reducing emissions without providing any binding mechanisms to achieve them—while leaving out of the main text critical issues of climate justice including Indigenous rights and a just transition for workers. Now, after a year of climate rhetoric without climate action, the Trudeau government is going to the COP22 next week in Morocco, increasingly on the wrong side of the movement rising to address climate change.

Indigenous rights

Years of opposition to Harper, including from Idle No More and the climate justice movement, created a huge demand for change. While the NDP lost by campaigning to the right and promising balanced budgets, the Liberals tacked left and won by promising “real change”. This included specific climate justice promises of implementing the United Nations Declaration, infrastructure spending, and insisting “while governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” What’s happened the last year?

As Mohawk activist and writer Russell Diabo explained, “Trudeau's biggest betrayal so far is his backsliding on his promise to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)…The Trudeau government is attempting to take the international minimum standards of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples' contained in the Articles of UNDRIP and interpret them through a Canadian constitutional framework, which continues to be used to dispossess, impoverish and oppress Indigenous peoples. Canada's founding constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, helped the fathers of colonialism immorally and illegally take the lands, territories and resources of Indigenous peoples, largely without compensation...By interpreting UNDRIP in accordance with Canadian constitutional law (as interpreted by the federal government and the Supreme Court of Canada), the Trudeau government is replacing the high international standard in UNDRIP of Free, Prior, Informed Consent with the lower domestic legal standard of the Crown's duty to consult with Indigenous groups. All the government has to do is justify infringement of Indigenous rights for the public good and, voilà, you can approve the Site C dam project in the Peace Valley the Liquified Natural Gas project on Lelu Island, and probably the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. Justin Trudeau is continuing the proud Liberal tradition of betraying Indigenous peoples—and this is only year one of his mandate.”

Climate jobs

Betraying Indigenous peoples goes along with backtracking on climate goals to the ones Harper promised, and supporting the same pipelines. Catherine McKenna justifies this on the grounds that many workers “are just trying to get by every day, figuring out how they’re going to put food on the table.” But tar sands companies have fired tens of thousands of workers—and a mass forest fire swept through Fort McMurray —and Bombardier has fired thousands more who could be building mass transit.

The Liberals are repeating Harper’s attempt to drive a wedge between workers and those concerned about the environment. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr recently claimed that “People say, ‘Leave the oil in the ground,’ they don’t want any development.” Not only is thus not true, but it implies the Liberals are ignoring the thousands of people who came to their townhall meetings across the country with the People’s Climate Plan: meet 1.5 degree commitment through 100% renewable economy that is justice based to support Indigenous communities and ensure that no worker is left behind.

Stopping tar sands expansion goes hand in hand with a mass expansion of climate jobs, as Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon explained at the signing of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion: “Tar sands are, I think, a national shame. If it were up to me it would be shut down tomorrow. But it would cause a lot of pain for people in Alberta, so our alliance is going to promote, in the strongest possible terms, massive investment in Alberta in another type of economy. These two actions, they go hand in hand. We’re not proposing to destroy Alberta, we’re trying to help it, and we’re trying to help the country, and we’re trying to help this planet.”

Labour groups are developing concrete demands to put this vision into practice— from unemployed tar sands workers asking to be retrained in solar panels, to postal workers explaining how they can help in Delivering Community Power, to the million climate jobs campaign to expand renewable energy, energy efficiency and high speed rail.

Because the Liberals have continued Harper’s corporate tax cuts to artificially create budget deficits to justify low spending, their budget could only commit $3.4 billion to public transit over three years ($1billion/year), and Finance Minister recently Morneau changed this to $23 billion over 11 years (just over $2billion/year)—which just extends the timeline without significantly increasing spending. The Million Climate Jobs plan calls for $17.6 billion over five years for public transit, $10 billion for high-speed rail, $23 billion for renewable energy and $30 billion for energy efficiency. This mass climate jobs transition, paid for by taxing the 1% responsible for the climate and economic crisis, is what we need, and it goes hand in hand with stopping tar sands expansion.

As the million climate jobs plapn explains, "A $74.9 billion expenditure ($15 billion/year) is an ambitious, but viable financial commitment to make, in the face of the challenge we face: a mere five percent of the federal government's annual budget...The million climate jobs plan lays the foundation for tackling climate change while creating jobs. It also provides a strategy to address poverty and inequality. After all, the proposals outlined here for creating jobs should not only be made to serve displaced workers from polluting industries, but also for the industries suffering the impacts of climate change, the unemployed, the working pooor, plut First Nations and racialized communities.

A year into Trudeau’s rule, real change is emerging—not from his rhetoric that provides a cover to continue austerity and climate catastrophe, but from movements demanding Indigenous rights and a just transition for workers.

*On November 19 join the march and rally against Kinder Morgan in Vancouver.

*On November 30 join the solidarity with Clyde River and Chippewas of the Thames First Nations at the Supreme Court in Ottawa.


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