The following is a transcript of climate and social justice campaigner Robin Tress’s comments at the Law Amendments proceedings in Halifax, NS on October 28 2019. These comments are in response to Nova Scotia’s tabled legislation that includes new greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Robin speaking at Law Amendments for Bill 213, the Sustainable Development Goals Act, which includes legislated greenhouse gas targets for the province, are underway today. This is a screenshot of the livestream posted on nslegislature.ca
My name is Robin Tress and I am a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians. I, like almost everyone here, am a visitor to these Mi’kmaq lands, and I see my place in this law amendments process as an attempt to support Mi’kmaq communities in reclaiming sovereignty on their lands by intervening in colonial government processes.
We are an organization made up of more than 150,000 supporters from across the country, with about 60 community chapters working on social justice in their communities from coast to coast to coast. In Nova Scotia our chapters have been active in the struggles to defend land and water from the irreparable harms of resource extraction, including the fight against fracking, uranium mining, and offshore drilling. We stand in solidarity with Pictou Landing First Nation, a community that has been fighting for more than 50 years to stop their waters from being used as a toxic waste disposal. We stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq Grandmothers fighting to stop Alton Gas and to reclaim title to their territories and traditional governance systems.
Our organization is held together by the shared belief that another world is possible – one where we take care of each other and the planet we live on, and where people and communities are afforded more rights and respect than corporations and the superwealthy.
It is with that belief that I speak to you today. We are in a climate crisis. This crisis is an unfortunately logical conclusion of centuries of colonization of Indigenous lands, and the oppression and abuse of the world’s Indigenous peoples – here in Nova Scotia the Mi’kmaq Nation. This colonization of land and people enabled the accumulation of wealth by a few, as a result of taking the wealth of many. In the past few decades corporations has been able to amass so much wealth that they have paid for access to innumberable government decision making processes and public forums, including those that are meant to address the climate crisis. This is the root of the climate crisis, and we cannot forget that as we make greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. This is a crisis of inquality, wealth accumulation, and political power that is now manifesting as climate change.
We need to collectively transform society – from the extreme inequality and disconnection from the very real ecological crisis we are experiencing today, to a society that prioritizes people’s health, wellbeing, community, and dignity, and recognizes that people and the planet are inseparable.
With that in mind, the target laid out in this legislation is fine, but it’s not great. In order to do our part to stay below 1.5 degrees to global warming, our targets should be closer to 9.8MT and our timeline should be shorter. I expect that the consultation process that the legislation commits to, you’ll hear a lot of people talk about the need for even higher ambition.
I’m mostly here to talk about the consultation process that will take place in 2020. Consultation is a process of asking and listening in order to understand the general consensus within a community or society. Consultation is necessary when you haven’t heard what is needed and wanted. It is imperative that I remind you all the ways you have heard from us about how to act on climate change in a way that is equitable and will addresses the long history of inequality and oppression I just described.
First, the 2030 Declaration is a document written and consented to by over 100 organizations in Nova Scotia, including the Council of Canadians, representing communities that have first-hand experience with the racism, poverty, sexism, and genocide that comes along with these centuries of colonization and capitalism. It has also been consented to by people who are working to create solutions to the interlocked climate and inequality crisis.
This declaration calls for GHG reductions of 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 – this is far more ambitious than what is laid out in this law. It calls for action and legislation that understand the structural inequities of race, gender, income, and the ongoing impacts of colonization and environmental racism in our province.
It calls for the just transition to centre the rights of Indigenous Peoples and follow treaty rights and responsibilities under the Peace and Friendship Treaties here in Mi’kma’ki. Our transition must centre the voices of Mi’kmaw people, African Nova Scotians, and other marginalized peoples, and respect traditional, local, and academic knowledge. Any consultation to these ends needs to be inclusive, accessible, transparent, and timely.
Second, there are clear calls from Mi’kmaq and settler communities across Nova Scotia to stop pillaging the earth for fossil fuels, uranium, and gold. It’s almost heartbreaking that I need say that this government needs to stop Alton Gas. It needs to remain firm on the deadline to close Boat Harbour and help Pictou Landing First Nation – and the entire Mi’kmaq Nation – to heal from decades and centuries of abuse. Don’t even think about reopening the discussion on uranium mining. Stop trying to mine for gold – it is a useless metal. Stop pouring money into offshore drilling. If we put equality and justice for people at the centre our plan for the future, there is no need for any of these devastating projects to go ahead.
Third, people in Nova Scotia have been suffering at the hands of the ultrarich for too long, and we haven’t been shy about telling you that. We know that corporate interests get more attention from our government than we do. Whether it has to do with maintaining and improving public healthcare, or discussing natural resources, or policing, or taxes, we know that this government puts corporate interests ahead of public interests every time.
In the consultation process next year, it is essential that corporate voices are excluded from consultation. Corporate interests are what got us into this mess. They cannot be allowed to muddy the waters of our urgent action on the climate crisis.
Finally, you already know that based on the treaties of peace and friendship, Free Prior and Informed Consent of the Mi’kmaq Nation is mandatory for all activities on this land. This means going beyond the ‘Made in Nova Scotia Process’ and towards respect for traditional governance and collective rights. I am not the one to tell you how to do this – you can hear it straight from grandmothers from across the Mi’kmaq nation. They are telling you this often.
I am saying all these things so that you have clear picture of where your consultations should start. As I said in the beginning, consultation is necessary when you need to learn something new, or hear something new from people. You have already heard from the 2030 Network, from communities facing immanent threats to their watersources and overall health. You have heard that we don’t want to be overshadowed by the corporate interests that put us in this mess in the first place. You have heard that you must obey the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
Consultation goes bad when it is used as an effort to delay, or when you’ve heard from a community and you just don’t like what they said, so you keep asking until someone says the thing you wanted to hear.
I am aware that the demands that communities have articulated are very challenging. They require a new way of thinking and organizing our society. However, they are necessary, and they are the will of the people.
In any good consultation process, those setting out to consult must first do as much as they can to understand what is already going on, and what has already been said, so that the consultation process can reveal something new. I urge you to recognize all the work that has already been done by communities to envision and build the new way forward that we need so badly. I urge you to use this as the starting point, the baseline for your consultation process, so that we can really get somewhere in figuring out how to transform Nova Scotia into a place where we can all live with dignity and take the necessary action on climate change.
We don’t have time to backslide. We don’t have time to talk about whether to reopen Nova Scotia to fracking, or to continue searching for offshore oil, or to continue abusing Mi’kmaq communities and their lands and waters.
I hope the consultation process focuses on the needs of people and communities, not corporations. I hope it results in real funding to make this transition and transformation actually happen, including funding for the workers who need to re-skill to do the heavily lifting this transition requires. I hope it results in a task force that is given the appropriate resources to actually make change happen. We can’t have this be another report that gathers dust on a shelf. And I hope the consultation process results in real recognition of and reparations for environmental racism across Nova Scotia.
People are here to do the hard work of transforming our society. We hope those in control of this legislation are too.
Thank you for your time and your attention to the true transformation we need.