8 ways climate organizing impacted the federal election

Written by Robin Tress and Dylan Penner, Climate and Social Justice Campaigners, Council of Canadians

Last month, Canada had its first climate election. As a result of tireless climate justice organizing from coast to coast to coast, action on the climate emergency was a top vote-determining issue. With a new minority Parliament set to convene in the near future, we can learn from and build on the impact of this organizing to win the just transition we need.

17.9 million people took to the polls and 63% of Canadians voted for parties with significant climate planks in their platform. Though, it’s worth noting one of those parties bought more pipelines than others.

The Conservative “plan” included a commitment to a national “energy corridor”, which voters rightly understood as a commitment to more pipelines, and analysis shows the party’s platform would have increased emissions.

9,927,525 people voted for a just transition from where we are to the just and sustainable future we need to build together.

Before and during the election campaign, the climate justice movement shifted the political terrain. Here are eight ways the climate justice movement effected the federal election, which have laid the groundwork for the opportunities ahead. For our movement to have an even greater impact on the next election and beyond, that work needs to start now.

1. The wake-up call

In October 2018, one year before the federal election, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its pivotal report warning that we have until 2030 to reduce our emissions by at least half, on the way to net zero emissions by 2050.

We shouldn’t gloss over the level of shock and climate grief this sparked in people from coast to coast to coast and around the world. The urgency of this report and its underscoring the need for systemic transformation soon became a significant motivator for climate justice organizing.

In the wake of the IPCC report, youth occupied MP offices across the country and 50,000 people marched in Montreal for climate justice and a just transition.

Recently, we heard another call from 11,000 scientists who signed a declaration of a climate emergency.

2. Indigenous-led fossil fuel infrastructure resistance

In January 2019, TransCanada (now TC Energy) asked for an injunction against the longstanding peaceful land re-occupation on Wet’suwet’en territory – the Unist’ot’en and Gidumt’en camps. The courts delivered that injunction, and the RCMP descended in full force, arresting 14 land protectors. In response, people rallied outside RCMP stations and in public spaces to demand justice for the Wet’suwet’en peoples who are (still!) defending their inherent rights to their unceded, unsurrendered territories.

Eventually the charges on these 14 people were dropped, but TC Energy is still building the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the abuse of Wet’suwet’en territory continues.

Then in June, Trudeau’s cabinet approved the TransMountain pipeline (after outright buying it the previous year), despite active Indigenous opposition in the streets and in the courts, and no economic rationale to speak of.

The Tiny House Warriors have been actively occupying the unceded Secwepemc territories through which the TransMountain expansion is planned.

Mi’kmaq water protectors in Nova Scotia continue to fight the Alton Gas storage project. This year they learned that parent company AltaGas lobbied the federal government 22 times in 2018 in order to secure new regulations under the Fisheries Act in order to enable their toxic project to go ahead.

There are far more Indigenous-led struggles than we could possibly list in one blog, though there are incredible resistances to all forms of colonization and extractivism happening across Canada.

3. PowerShift and United We Roll

Counterprotest against united we roll, photo by Bronwen Tucker.
Counterprotest against united we roll, photo by Bronwen Tucker.

PowerShift is a youth climate justice gathering that has been taking place for 10 years in Canada, with the latest iteration in February of this year in Ottawa. This is a powerful space for young people to come together, learn about climate justice activism and organizing, and strategize together about how to respond to the crushing climate crisis.

At the same time that youth were attending this gathering, the far right United We Roll brigade rolled into Ottawa. This pro-fossil fuel extraction group boasted that hundreds of people would convoy to Ottawa to demand support for tar sands expansion, though their numbers fell far flat of what was expected and they were entirely overshadowed by the hopeful, powerful youth convergence. Read our blog about that wild day here.

4. Spring student strikes

Students at the strike in Ottawa. Photo by Dylan Penner / Council of Canadians.
Students at the strike in Ottawa. Photo by Dylan Penner / Council of Canadians.

In the spring of this year student climate strikes really started taking off. On March 15th thousands of students filled the streets in cities and towns across Canada, and 98 different groups of students joined the May 24 climate strike. All of these strikes are meant to build awareness and pressure on the need for climate action. Of course, we all know that this story has grown far beyond these already-impressive mobilizations in May.

5. The Pact for a Green New Deal

The Pact for a Green New Deal launched on May 6th, 2019 and put climate justice front and centre just as the election was about to start, with 200 town halls from coast to coast to coast.

Following the launch, and as a result of work by the Pact and numerous other groups within the climate justice movement, climate action became a centrepiece of the federal election.

Not only did 10 million people vote for parties that had climate action plans as huge portions of their platforms, some of these platforms were directly influenced by the work of the Pact for the Green New Deal and the broader climate justice movement.

6. Historic Climate Strike in September

The wave of climate strikes starting September 20 and culminating in the day of action in Canada on September 27 was pivotal. Nearly a million people marched in Canada, with 500,000 in Montreal alone. Many communities had their largest protest in decades. Some had had their largest protest ever.

Following the September climate strike, Trudeau’s support among youth dropped 10% literally overnight. There’s a very real likelihood that the Liberals would have been re-elected with another majority, but thanks (at least in part) to the influence of this youth organizing, we now have a minority parliament and the opportunities that come with it to win transformative change.

The climate strike in Ottawa. Photo by Dylan Penner / Council of Canadians.
The climate strike in Ottawa. Photo by Dylan Penner / Council of Canadians.

7. #GretaInAlberta

The MPs elected in Alberta were all from a party that so far has not taken the climate crisis seriously and campaigned on making it worse with a massive national pipeline corridor - the Conservative Party of Canada.

But the climate strike in Edmonton, joined by Greta Thunberg on October 18th, just a few days before Election Day, drew tens of thousands of people out into the streets once again.

This was an important reminder that we should not let the federal election results in Alberta or the calls for “Wexit” obscure the fact that a significant number of people in Alberta want a future of climate justice and just transition.

8. Climate organizing during the election

Organizations across the country worked hard to get out the vote for a Green New Deal. Big shout out to Our Time, LeadNow, and everyone who organized local climate debates, including many Council of Canadians chapters.

There was a significant push for a dedicated leaders’ debate on climate action, and though this didn’t come to fruition the demand itself raised the profile of the urgency of climate action, and played a role in the climate emergency being as prominent a topic as it was in the televised leaders’ debates.

The government in power is only one piece of an enormous puzzle of societal transformation. We need transformation at all levels: within ourselves, within our communities, and all levels of government.

What now?

We need to power up our movements to transform society. Our movements elected a number of climate champions, prevented a Conservative government without a climate plan from gaining power, and solidified around the idea of rapid and just transformation.

The new minority federal government is part of that transformation, and so are we. In this minority Parliament, we can influence our MPs – regardless of their party – to implement policy changes driven by our communities that will build our just transition.

The Green New Deal calls for transformation in both government activities and political power at the federal level. All levels of government and aspects of society need to be part of this transition.

Cities, towns, and municipalities are the frontlines of government – these are the bodies we have the most access to, and they have a surprisingly huge ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create more fair, affordable places to live.

Our communities can build a Green New Deal from the ground up by implementing policies that require and encourage better public transit, affordable housing, energy efficiency programs, land use, and beyond.

According to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, municipal governments have influence over about 44% of Canada’s emissions. You can learn more about opportunities for local change by reading our Green New Deal Communities guide.

Whichever way your heart is calling you – to work for change in your community, your province or territory, or at the federal level – change needs to happen at all levels, and all action ripples out to influence further action.

Together, we can turn those ripples into the wave of support we need to win a Green New Deal.