Citizen Action Monitor

At People’s Climate March, Canadian activist blasts Trudeau’s climate policies and leadership

Crunch the numbers and his vaunted deal with the provinces comes up far short of what we need, says Avi Lewis.

No 1948 Posted by fw, May 1, 2017

“So, Canada led the charge on 1.5°C, “lapped up the love”, as my partner Naomi Klein likes to say, in Paris, and came home and led a year-long process with all the provincial governments to have a pan-Canadian framework. That framework, that deal has been announced. The details have been released and agreed upon, and it was basically a political horse trade…. If you just look at the deal that Canada’s governments struck under Trudeau, and break down the numbers on the new production that is involved, the massive expansion of our fossil fuel production, as well as the mitigation measures which will lower emissions, moderately – you could even argue, significantly, — still nowhere near on the level that’s really required by science to fulfill Canada’s commitments on the international stage, let alone actually set a leadership example that would put the world on a path to 2°C or even 1.5°C.” —Avi Lewis

In an exclusive, wide-ranging 18-minute Real News interview at the People’s Climate March in Washington on Saturday, Canadian activist, filmmaker, and author Avi Lewis and Dimitri Lascaris discuss Trudeau’s climate policies, Bill McKibben’s scathing indictment of the PM as a “stunning hypocrite”, the Leap Manifesto’s demand for a just transition to a green economy in Canada and beyond, and where Canada’s labour leaders and workers stand on the Manifesto.

The always articulate, sparkling Avi Lewis was in top form in this interview.

Below is an embedded video of the interview along with my transcript, added hyperlinks, and text highlighting. To watch the video, without the transcript and hyperlinks, click on the following linked title.


Avi Lewis: People’s Climate March by The Real News Network, April 29, 2017


Lascaris asks Avi Lewis whether he agrees/disagrees with McKibben’s scathing assessment of Trudeau’s climate policies

Dimitri Lascaris – This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, a very hot and steamy Washington DC. I’m here today with Avi Lewis, a Canadian film maker, activist and co-author of the Leap Manifesto. Thanks for joining us today Avi.

I’d like to start by talking to you about the climate policies of our current prime minister. You saw Bill McKibben, one of the leading environmental activists in the US and the world, authored an op-ed in The Guardian in which he offered quite a scathing assessment of Justin Trudeau’s climate policies. He called him a “stunning hypocritical disaster for the planet.” Where do you agree with Bill McKibben’s assessment and where do you disagree, if at all?

McKibben could have been harsher

Avi Lewis – I think Bill could have been harsher. I’ve been looking really carefully at the numbers and at the impacts of Canada’s various climate policies under Justin Trudeau and comparing them, as Bill McKibben did in that piece, to the rhetoric and the place that Canada wants to occupy in the post-Harper era on the world stage.

At COP21 in Paris, under the banner “Canada’s back”, Canada pushed for a 1.5°C warming limit

I was in Paris for the COP 21 in 2015. The Liberals had just been elected and they arrived with great fanfare – “Canada’s back. We get it on climate.” In fact, what Bill [McKibben] pointed out in that piece, which is particularly hard – particularly for countries of the global South that are really experiencing the worst effects of the climate crisis – is that it was Canada, who, at the US’ behest, and Obama’s behest, who went into the negotiations and fought, not just for the 2°C target, but for 1.5. And 1.5°C of warming – limiting us to 1.5°C over industrial levels – is almost impossible now because it just keep going up and up and up an up. But really, 2°C is a disaster for huge parts of the planet, and for marginalized communities in the rich world in the norther hemisphere as well.

But after “lapping up the love” in Paris, Trudeau engaged in a “horse trade” with the provinces

So, Canada led the charge on 1.5°C, “lapped up the love”, as my partner Naomi Klein likes to say, in Paris, and came home and led a year-long process with all the provincial governments to have a pan-Canadian framework. That framework, that deal has been announced. The details have been released and agreed upon, and it was basically a political horse trade – that…

Alberta got 2 pipelines, BC got LNG products destined for shipment to China

… Alberta got two new tar sands pipelines, huge new expansions of existing pipelines, British Columbia got – Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia has staked her entire political future on twenty proposed liquefied natural gas projects in northwestern BC – which there’s, some of the biggest fracking operations on earth are in northwestern British Columbia, and all of that gas is supposed to go, be liquefied in an incredibly carbon-intense process, loaded onto tankers and sent mostly to China.

In exchange, Trudeau got a deal that looks good — until you do the math

So, they approved a massive LNG project in British Columbia and these two huge tar sands expansion pipelines, and in exchange for that they got:

  • a coal phaseout across Canada by 2020 or 2030, which is great;
  • low carbon fuel standards, which is significant; and
  • a price on carbon, which is arguable whether or not that’s a really effective mechanism for reducing emissions, but it would be $50 a ton by 2030

And all of the provinces agreed to these measures, and a number of other measures.

Break down the numbers and Canada comes up far short of putting the world on a path to 2°C

If you just look at the deal that Canada’s governments struck under Trudeau, and break down the numbers on the new production that is involved, the massive expansion of our fossil fuel production, as well as the mitigation measures which will lower emissions, moderately – you could even argue, significantly, — still nowhere near on the level that’s really required by science to fulfill Canada’s commitments on the international stage, let alone actually set a leadership example that would put the world on a path to 2°C or even 1.5°C. None of that is even on the table, right?

Lascaris – When you say Canada’s commitment, are you referring to [crosstalk] –

Lewis – The Paris commitment.

Lascaris – …to Stephen Harper’s emission reduction targets

Canada’s Harper-Trudeau targets are only a third of what our fair share should be

Lewis – Correct. So even in Paris Canada only had the crappy, low-ball, insufficient, deeply disappointing Harper targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. And they said it was a floor not a ceiling. But now, of course, they’re saying it will be hard to not just reach the Harper targets. So, the Harper-Trudeau targets, which really are only a third of what Canada’s fair share would be, in terms of our capacity as a rich country, our technological capacity, and our fiscal capacity, and our historical responsibility of building our wealth over the last 150 and more years on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Our Paris commitments are only a third of what our fair share would be.

And the pan-Canadian deal will get us only a tenth of the way to our fair share of emission reductions  

And all of those measures in the pan-Canadian climate deal, when you net out the numbers – and I’ve been working with researchers to really dig in and crunch all those numbers – they get us – honestly, charitably – maybe a third of the way to the Harper targets: which are themselves a third of the way to our fair share. So, the big pan-Canadian climate deal, if you give it a rosy view of what they’re saying they can achieve in all these emissions reductions is going to get us a tenth of the way to what Canada’s fair share would be in leading the way on saving the planet – health and a safe future for most of humanity.

McKibben’s charge of Trudeau’s “stunning hypocrisy” is “a vast understatement”

So, “stunning hypocrisy” when you’re going around saying we’re the climate government, we get it, we’re the ones who’re really going to take it seriously. The dark Harper years are over. Stunning hypocrisy is a vast understatement.

Lascaris – Let’s talk about solutions, about the way forward. And you – I mentioned at the outset that you’re a co-author of the Leap Manifesto. Many of us have read it, are intimately familiar with its details, but for those of our audience who may not have had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with it, could you just summarize the essential message of the Leap Manifesto.

Lewis – The Leap Manifesto was released in the run-up to the last federal election by a large coalition, a broad coalition – really a once in a generation constellation of social movements and social movement leaders. It was a document that came out of a meeting with sixty social movement leaders from around the country – First Nations’ leaders, labour, environmental groups from a span like Direct Action, 350 type folks, much more staid mainstream environmental groups, food, justice, migrant and refugee justice groups, anti-poverty groups – really a tremendous spectrum of different social causes who came together around a vision of a Canada we want.

Leap Manifesto’s 15 political demands would get Canada off fossil fuels in a hurry

And its 15 political demands that would get Canada off fossil fuels in a hurry and do it in a way that systematically attacks disgusting historic levels of inequality in our country, the legacy and ongoing living structural racism in our country, and to try to heal some of the wounds that were opened up in the founding of our country around First Nations and the relationship between Canada and First Nations.

So, it calls for implementing the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous People. It calls for a rapid transition to our electricity system to be all renewables in a matter of 50 years. And it has a lot of other demands specifically around what some people call community benefits – that the communities and constituencies that are getting shafted in the fossil fuels capitals that we live in must be first in line to get the enormous numbers of good jobs, local revenues and energy democracy that the transition promises.

Lascaris – When I was – I had the opportunity to be at COP 21 and I had a chance to speak to Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. I asked her about the Leap Manifesto and she was enthusiastically supportive of it, pointed out that she was the only leader of a party with representation in Parliament that had endorsed it. But then I asked her – well, my sense of the Leap Manifesto is that it really questions whether we can solve this global climate emergency with a capitalist economy? And her response to that was that it’s really not about capitalism, the problem is corporate rule. What’s your view about this? Is this something we can achieve? Can we resolve this crisis in a capitalist economy?

The good news about dealing with this global climate emergency in a capitalist economy – We have the technology

Lewis – What we face in terms of actually getting there are not huge technological barriers. In Canada technology is available. We need hundreds of thousands of solar installations and wind turbines. The technology’s all there. The market forces are more or less aligned. Capital, internationally, is fleeing the fossil fuel sector. And renewables are just surging.

The bad news – The resource requirements to make the transition are huge

But to actually enact a transition on the scale required, on the scale that science requires, the scale that humanity and justice require, is going to require a marshalling of resources on a scale that we haven’t seen since the Second World War. I’m not a big fan of the military analogies, but if we talk about a wartime mobilization, you’re going to systematically challenge the entire neoliberal project of the last 30 years, which has concentrated immense wealth in the hands of the few.

The bad news — Corporations are hoarding Canada’s wealth – And we need all that money

So, we’ve got two guys in Canada, Galen Weston and David Thompson, billionaires, who control as much wealth as a third of all Canadians. More than 10 million people have the wealth of those two guys. Corporate taxes have been slashed in half in Canada. Half under Harper and half under Martin and Chretien and the Liberal government before. So, in a generation we’ve seen corporate taxes go from almost 30% to 15%. And what ar corporations doing with that money? They’re hoarding it.

A couple of years ago the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives did a study on corporate hoarding. They looked at how much money is sloshing around on the balance sheets of major Canadian corporations: it was an amount just in excess profits, just in cash on hand that was comparable to the entire national debt at that point. Meanwhile we have people in incredibly precarious work, people – there’s a million Canadians who are a percentage point interest rate rise away from going underwater on their mortgages and credit card bills. So, for the vast majority of Canadians, life is more precarious than ever. Meanwhile, we’re just seeing record-shattering profits quarter after quarter after quarter.

We need all that money that’s concentrated at the top. And billions, hundreds of billions of dollars have been sucked out of Canada by the richest and most powerful industry in the history of money. So, we really have an incredibly unsafe level of stratification in our economy. And to embark on a project to save humanity, and to have a safe future for everyone, we need access to that money. It is completely off the table under the current arrangements.

The bad news – Federal government spending is at a 60-year low

And the Liberal government under Trudeau has the lowest capacity to change the fiscal direction of our country that there has been in 60 years. Federal government spending is at a 60-year low in Canada. There’s nothing that Trudeau’s doing to upset those arrangements. We really do have to challenge massive inequality and all of the rules that have been tilted in favour of just sucking money upward in the economy if we’re going to going to have the resources necessary.

The Bombardier bailout scandal – Makes the case for public ownership to save jobs to take us in the right direction

There was a fantastic op-ed piece* on Medium by Dru Oja Jay just a couple of days ago that made the argument that if the Quebec government in going to give a billion dollars to Bombardier, and the federal government is going to give $370 million to Bombardier, and that’s just the latest bailout, and then they’re going to turn around fire 10,000 workers – 15,000 workers globally – while the executives give themselves tens of million dollars in extra bonuses, that’s completely, completely unacceptable. If governments are going to bail out corporations like Bombardier they should use the bailout money to just simply buy them – to buy 51% of them and to redirect them as publicly owned companies, cooperatively managed if possible, to make the light rail systems, and the inner-city fast-transit systems electrified on the basis of clean renewable energy that will take our country in exactly the direction that we need to go and create hundreds of thousands or even millions of jobs to save the people who are falling through the cracks in increasing numbers. [*Source — Bombardier is corporate greed at its worst; nationalizing it could create the global leader we need by Dru Oja Jay, Medium, April 26, 2917]

Whither labour unions and leaders in Canada? Whose side are they on?

Lascaris – I’d like to conclude by asking you about the people who are falling through the cracks, and the people who are on the losing end of this grotesque inequality that we’re seeing in our country. And that’s labour. At the NDP’s convention in Alberta there was an attempt to broach a discussion, as I understand it, it wasn’t an attempt to adopt Leap Manifesto. The first step was to have a discussion –

Lewis – The NDP agreed that they would debate the Manifesto in riding associations. And there was even a weasel clause that I personally helped put in the resolution that said – and all these specific measures in the Leap should be debated and adopted or ignored by different communities depending on their regional circumstances – which was like an Alberta out clause. It doesn’t get mentioned much in the coverage.

Lascaris – Well, despite the presence of that clause, Unifor, I believe, is the largest private sector union in the country – it’s leader, a gentleman by the name of Jerry Diaz – he was quite upset about the fact that to those of us on the outside looking in – even about the fact that there was a discussion taking place about the Leap Manifesto. The question that I have for you is how do you get organized labour on board? And how do you get them to stop feeling threatened? And let’s be frank and fair to organized labour. They’ve suffered immensely over the last several decades and they’re perfectly entitled and justified in feeling suspicious about the direction that this is all going to take. But at the end of the day we need them to be on board, and how are we going to get them there?

The ambivalence of Jerry Dias and Unifor

Lewis – Absolutely. First of all, in terms of Jerry Dias and Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, he was standing beside the NDP former member of parliament, Megan Leslie on the floor of that NDP Edmonton convention while she spoke on behalf of the Leap Manifesto. So, he was with is and he was against us and he was with us, reflecting the ambivalence in the leadership of organized labour in Canada – some unions. Much harsher was Gill McGowan, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour who called us latte swilling downtown Toronto ivory tower elitists who were dragging our trash across his front lawn.

There are Canadian Unions on board with the Leap Manifesto

This reflects the kind of atavistic old school smear and cliché about environmentalists versus trade unions and working people, which really belongs is a glass case in a museum. It’s not the fact today. In this extraordinary march today, which specifically is named climate jobs and justice, trade unions are here, not all of them, but many of the biggest. And the trade union members are here in profusion, as they were in marches like in Toronto in 2015 – the job justice march in Toronto. And we had Hassan Yussuff, the head of the Canadian Labour Congress, the biggest labour federation in Canada, who was one of the first signers of the Leap Manifesto. Paul Moist, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, former leader of the largest public union in Canada, who signed it as well.

There are huge parts of the labour movement that are completely behind rapid transition. And huge public investments in the transition away from fossil fuels because they understand that the fossil fuel industry is a sunset industry. Everybody understands that. The fossil fuel industry itself understand that and is planning for the future, when they’re not fighting it with the other hand. The oil majors are bailing from the tar sands investments in huge numbers. And hundreds of billions in investments are now off the table.

There are vast opportunities for workers abandoned by oil and gas

So, everybody understands that we’re going to be off fossil fuels at some point. The question is whether their labour leaders really have their workers’ interests in mind. When they fight against environmentalists and against energy transition in favour of a relatively small number of existing jobs, or whether they start putting those people back to work now in a massive energy transition that would create untold economic opportunities. A hundred thousand or more people who have been fired in Alberta since the oil price crash of 2014, those skills of boiler makers and pipe fitters and industrial electricians and journeymen and trades of all kinds map almost perfectly to the skills that we need for geothermal electricity, for solar and wind installations. There are vast opportunities for those very same people who have been abandoned by the oil and gas industry. Not satisfied with sucking hundreds of billions of profits out of the Alberta tar sands then abandons an entire generation of workers when the price crashes.

When it comes to workers, the real motto of the Leap Manifesto is “No worker left behind”

Labour leaders have beautiful climate policies on their books, but they don’t actually put their bargaining muscle behind them too much of the time. And that is, we believe, not serving their members. That’s not the kind of leadership that their members need. There are huge job opportunities in a transition done with public ownership, with massive public investments and as part of the struggle that goes back to the roots of the labour movement to protect workers. The real slogan of a Leap Manifesto when it comes to workers is “No worker left behind”, because no worker should ever be forced to pay for a transition that they didn’t ask for, that they didn’t contribute to.

Lascaris – Hear, hear.

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