After many years of living in colder climates to the east, I’m grateful to be back home on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, where signs of spring are early and abundant. The streets of Vancouver’s West End are resplendent with cherry blossoms as the neighbourhood shakes off the torpor of winter and welcomes the longer days. It’s a moment to take stock of important political developments over the previous months and make plans to organize and build community power for the season ahead.
In British Columbia, the past several months have seen a changing of the guard in the B.C. NDP. Following a controversial leadership selection process, David Eby was acclaimed as the new leader of the party and was sworn in as the new premier of the province in November. Upon assuming office, Premier Eby was faced with the same fundamental question as his predecessor: what is the future of resource extraction and industrial development in British Columbia in an age of climate emergency and ecological crisis?
This question is not an easy one to answer. We know that prevailing forms of resource extraction – from clearcut logging to fracking – are destabilizing the climate system and threatening the survival of keystone species like the Pacific salmon that sustain entire ecosystems. We also know that the resource industries play a central role in the province’s economic system as it’s currently structured. That structure is colonial and capitalist, built on the displacement of Indigenous people and the appropriation of the natural world by a small ownership class devoted to profit above all else.
And so the question begets another question: how can we create a more just and equitable economic system while safeguarding the lands, waters, and atmosphere that make the Pacific region hospitable to so many, humans and non-humans alike? Governments have struggled to provide meaningful answers, preferring to defer the real work of decolonization and decarbonization to some distant future date. So, what is to be done?
Activists with the Council of Canadians know that governments won’t act unless they’re pushed to do so by organized movements with a commitment to justice. Instead of waiting for Premiers Eby and Pillai (in the Yukon) to come to the right conclusions, Council chapters have been working to change the conversation and drive progressive change across the Pacific region.
Perhaps the most direct response to the questions posed above is provided by the Council of Canadians’ campaign for a just transition. Calling on MPs across the country to table a petition signed by their constituents, the campaign demands strong federal just transition legislation to rapidly phase out carbon-intensive economic sectors while ensuring that no one employed in those sectors is left behind. Activists across the Pacific region have enthusiastically taken up the campaign, including a dedicated group in Whitehorse, where an emerging new Council chapter has gathered hundreds of signatures and met with their MP on two occasions, who has in turn tabled the petition in the House of Commons twice.
A crew of activists in Vancouver has also been diligently hitting the streets, filling up petitions to deliver to MPs in each one of the city’s six federal electoral districts, as well as the nearby riding of North Vancouver. Plans are currently in the works to extend this successful work to the Greater Victoria region, where an emerging partnership with the Workers Solidarity Network promises to involve young workers in the service industry and other precarious sectors.
Fracking & LNG
Alongside just transition work, Pacific chapters are also involved in campaigns targeting specific sectors where the plans of industry and government are dangerously out of step with ecological realities. Foremost among these sectors is fracking – the injection of pressurized liquid into underground shale deposits to extract gas, which is liquified for export as LNG (liquefied natural gas). The Terrace chapter has participated in the environmental review process for new LNG export facilities on B.C.’s northwest coast, arguing that the review fails to consider the full scope of these projects’ emissions. While the Cedar LNG proposal was recently approved by the B.C. and federal governments, several controversial projects remain in the proposal phase. The Terrace chapter is working together with the environmental law organization Ecojustice to highlight the untenable emissions that would result from the Ksi Lisims LNG project.
Meanwhile in Nelson, the local Council of Canadians chapter co-hosted a public forum on the future of fracking and LNG in British Columbia on April 13th. Organized with Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health Kootenay-Boundary and the West Kootenay Climate Hub, the event brought community members together to discuss the rapidly growing LNG sector in the age of climate emergency.
In the Yukon, the emerging Whitehorse chapter continues to keep a watchful eye on fracking proposals in their region. Initially stopped in its tracks by a community coalition called Yukoners Concerned About Oil & Gas, fracking remains a possibility in the territory, including in the city limits of Whitehorse itself, which sits atop a shale gas deposit.
Sue Big Oil
Following an initial success in Vancouver in 2022, the Sue Big Oil campaign faced a setback under the city’s new municipal government, which declined to set aside funding for a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel polluters in this year’s budget. But the disappointment in Vancouver was quickly offset by a big win in Gibsons, where the local city council voted unanimously to support the lawsuit. A dedicated team of organizers on the Sunshine Coast did an impressive job of canvassing and building community support for the campaign, providing an inspiring example that has been taken up by activists further north in qathet. The Council of Canadians chapter in qathet (Powell River) is building alliances with local organizations and preparing to make a presentation to their city council in favour of the lawsuit. A win in this community could generate further momentum for the campaign, inspiring both activists and local politicians alike to take notice.
For more information on the Sue Big Oil campaign, you can find an article here.
Protecting Old Growth
Photos from Old Growth Rally: 1-4 by Karen Wasnechuk, 5-7 by Rich Hagensen.
Over on Vancouver Island, Council activists turned up in large numbers at the United for Old Growth March and Rally in Victoria on February 25th to demand that the provincial government finally protect B.C.’s giant trees. After years of delay and empty promises, the last remaining hectares of ancient forest in British Columbia continue to be logged. With a growing body of research emphasizing the crucial role of these forests in animal habitat, ecosystem health, and carbon sequestration, the province’s failure to confine logging to secondary forests is inexcusable.
The Nanaimo/Mid-Island chapter rented a bus to transport Council members and allies from up-island to the rally in Victoria. Rather than having everyone make their way to the capital in private transportation, renting a bus provided a venue for activists to connect with each other and build relationships for future collaboration—all while reducing carbon emissions. The Nanaimo chapter also generated community interest in advance of the rally by hosting a screening of the documentary The Issue with Tissue: A Boreal Love Story along with filmmaker Michael Zelniker.
Council chapters are doing more work to shape the future of the Pacific region than can be described here in detail. From Campbell River’s tireless advocacy for wild salmon to the Kamloops chapter’s public talk with Linda McQuaig, Council activists are pushing a more hopeful vision for B.C. and the Yukon and organizing to bring their communities on board.
In the weeks ahead, chapters across the region will shift their attention to the fight for a public national pharmacare program. Activists in the West-Kootenays, Vancouver, Victoria, Comox, Campbell River, and Powell River have begun to lay the groundwork for a series of local town hall meetings, where expert speakers and patient advocates will speak to the long overdue need for public pharmacare coverage. With the Liberals once again reluctant to fulfill their promises, it’s going to take all of us to make sure we don’t miss this historic opportunity to finally enshrine access to life-saving medicines as a right for all Canadians, regardless of wealth or income. It’s a fight we think we can win, and we hope you’ll join us.
Local chapters across the country have long been a political home to a network of local activists committed to resisting corporate power, strengthening democracy, and working for social, economic, and environmental justice. Chapters are leaders in their communities as they engage with Council of Canadians campaigns on water, just transition, or pharmacare, as well as regional and local issues of importance. As we continue to hold our government accountable, expose the corporate agenda, and push for policies that put people, planet, and democracy first, it has never been more important to get involved in your local community, engage in the critical work of public education and engagement, and build back power together. Join the fight by becoming a member of the Council of Canadians and joining a chapter near you.
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