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UPDATE: Environmental crisis workshop at the World Social Forum

This afternoon I spoke at the ‘Rôle du Forum social des peuples et convergence des luttes; Crise environnementale: quelles stratégies? quelles alternatives?’ workshop organized by Montreal-based Alternatives at the World Social Forum in Tunis.

Also on the panel were Jacques Létourneau, the president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Widia Larivière, the co-founder of Idle No More in Québec, and Marie-Soleil Chrétien and Benjamin Gingras from Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ). The session was ably facilitated by Marcela Escribano and Roger Rashi, both from Alternatives.

While the audience of 50 or so included a several people from Quebec and Canada, many more were from Tunisia and the region, as well as Brazil, France and other countries.

I began by sketching Harper’s international record and why people around the world should be concerned by what Canada is doing under Harper. I highlighted that just his morning we heard the news that the Harper government had pulled out of the United Nations convention to combat desertification, established almost twenty years ago following the first Earth Summit in Rio. I also noted that along with pulling out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, the Harper government has been actively lobbying in Europe to derail their Fuel Quality Directive (given it would limit the ability to export tar sands crude to Europe) and that it boasts that the full-time job of the Canadian embassy in Washington is to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved (described as a fuse to the carbon-bomb of northern Alberta).

Within Canada, I noted that the Harper government was within days about to close the Experimental Lakes Area, a freshwater research area in northern Ontario, because its scientific findings challenged the tar sands and the environmental harms done by corporations. I also noted that despite the global water crisis Canada has a Schedule 2 provision that allows mining corporations to dump their toxic waste into lakes renamed ‘tailings impoundment areas’ across the country. And I highlighted that the Harper government had delisted thousands of lakes and rivers from environmental protection in order to facilitate more pipelines, mining projects, major dams, and harmful industrial growth.

In conclusion, I noted that first and foremost we have to defeat the Harper government in the next election in October 2015. And that in order to do that social movements in Quebec, First Nations and Canada need to come together to be more powerful and effective in this struggle. I suggested that the Canada-Quebec-Indigenous Peoples Social Forum, much like the one here right now in Tunis, would be a great way to foster those essential discussions, strategizing and networking. I said that we must draw from the inspiration of Idle No More and the Quebec student strike, led by groups on today’s panel. I said that we must be prepared to follow the leadership of Indigenous peoples in Canada. And I asked for international solidarity, for those outside of Canada to name what the Harper government is doing when they see it or experience it abroad.

There were a number of good comments from the audience, including an offer of solidarity from Brazil, a call to boycott tar sands exports from Canada, acknowledgement of how bad Canadian corporations are internationally, as well as the question if Canadians know what the Harper government is doing is bad.

The presentations by Larivière, Létourneau, Chrétien and Gingras were insightful, the discussion was good, and it was a real pleasure to be invited by Alternatives to speak at this gathering.