Canadian youth lead fight for climate and economic justice

by | Oct 26, 2012 | News

Youth gather on Parliament Hill in June demanding an end to $1.4 billion of handouts to the fossil fuel industry. COURTESY ANDREW ALEXANDER

By Daniel Buzzelli

Youth from across Canada are uniting with labour unions and activist groups to spearhead the movement for climate and economic justice in Canada.

PowerShift 2012 kicks off its four-day conference in Ottawa Friday. The convergence will include workshops and panels as well as lectures from notable guest speakers like author and activist Naomi Klein and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the leaders of Quebec’s student protests earlier this year.

“It’s a youth- led convergence seeking to tackle the root causes of climate change,” Melisa Larue, CAW representative of the organizing committee for PowerShift, told Humber News. “We’re demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies and the hope is we build on the current movement for climate and economic justice.”

Larue said the primary goal of the PowerShift convergence is to end fossil fuel subsidies. But the broader societal message is to link environmental issues with economic issues and move forward to create a more sustainable future, she said.

“This is just basically a starting point,” said Larue. “This is the easiest thing our government can do to make way for that sustainable future is to end the fossil fuel subsidies.”

While PowerShift is centred on young workers and youth engagement, participants recognize the need to engage and work with older generations and different segments of society.

To that end, CAW, CUPE and CEP are some of the labour unions supporting PowerShift, along with the Canadian Labour Congress.

“If we really do want to have a sustainable economy and a place that we really want to live in, we have to do it together,” said Dave Coles, national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. “And that’s absolutely clear.”

Coles said he and others at CEP were inspired by the youth-led protests –sparked by proposed tuition increases – that gripped Quebec for much of the summer.

“It’s very clear, at least to us, that young workers really do have a big message, a lot to say, and have a lot of vested interest in the future of the country,” said Coles. “So for us it’s just an absolute no-brainer that you would be there supporting it and encouraging and listening.”

In addition to putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies, Coles said one of the main goals of the CEP’s involvement with PowerShift is to build coalitions to oppose the expansion of the tarsands.

“Our members who work in the tarsands are diametrically opposed to building the pipelines for the export of raw bitumen and are opposed to this unfettered expansion of the tarsands,” said Coles.

The Conference Board of Canada released a report Wednesday, which says the economic benefits of the tarsands will be felt not just in Alberta but all across the country.

But Coles said “the evidence at the National Energy Board hearings are absolutely to the contrary.”

In fact, Coles said a pipeline built to export raw bitumen from the tarsands will actually lead to job losses in Canada, since the bitumen is shipped to be processed somewhere else.

To build such a pipeline would create about 17 permanent jobs in Canada, said Coles, at a loss of about 26,000 potential jobs, which would be shipped elsewhere.

“So it is just an absolute economic debacle,” he said. “ And the evidence is clear.”

PowerShift 2012 runs through the weekend, culminating with a rally on Oct. 29 to demand an end to the federal government’s annual $1.4 billion subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.