Canadian Youth Converge in Ottawa for Environmental Conference

Solar panels are an example of a renewable energy source the government could invest in. Photo Erin Sparks

Approximately 50 students from Concordia University and 1,000 youth from across Canada will assemble in Ottawa this weekend for Power Shift, a three-day conference on climate change and renewable energy.

“We’re convening for what we think is a historic economic and climate convergence in Ottawa, to build a broad and diverse movement to tackle the root cause of climate change, which we think is a fundamentally unsustainable economic system based on corporate greed and perpetual growth,” says Martin Lukacs, one of the conference’s organizers.

Speakers, workshops and networking will be the cornerstones of the weekend-long event which begins Friday in Ottawa. Presenters include Naomi Klein, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and ecologist Mikael Rioux. Workshops will address a range of topics and issues including effective storytelling, online campaigning and non-violent disobedience.

The conference concludes on Monday with a protest on Parliament Hill which will demand that the federal government invest in renewable energy projects and end its subsidization of the fossil fuel industry.

“We think that an important first step in our transition towards a more just, equitable and clean society is ending the $1.4 billion a year that the federal government hands out to the dirtiest, richest corporations in the world,” says Lukacs.

That money, he says, can be better spent on renewable energy, post-secondary education, public transit, social housing and other government programs.

But Power Shift is also about uniting youth from across Canada to build an “environmental and climate change justice movement” that operates outside the realm of electoral politics.

“We don’t think that solutions to the climate crisis are going to come from the top, are going to be handed down by politicians, by business councils, by companies,” Lukacs says. “The viable alternatives are going to emerge from the grassroots.”

The conference also focuses on building positive change in other areas of advocacy, including education, mobilization, and collective action.

The Concordia Student Union organized a bus to transport students to Ottawa. CSU VP Sustainability Andrew Roberts will attend the conference.

“I think people are really interested [in the conference] because it gives a more grounded approach to dealing with national policy issues, which are pretty daunting,” he says, adding that the workshops will tackle things we can do “at home, in the community and at school.”

Roberts believes it is important that Concordia students be present at the conference.

“This is a pressing time,” he says. “If we want to step up as stewards and leaders in our communities–and possibly in our country and our province–this is a great opportunity to be networking, to be learning, to be engaging with people who might be doing similar things across the country.”

“This is a pressing time. If we want to step up as stewards and leaders in our communities–and possibly in our country and our province–this is a great opportunity to be networking, to be learning, to be engaging with people who might be doing similar things across the country.”
—CSU VP Sustainability Andrew Roberts

A motion was put forward in the School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association to endorse the conference and encourage students to attend.

“Concordia has an interesting history in political activism,” says SCPASA member Anthony Garoufalis-Auger. He says climate change has been dormant as a national issue in recent years and that it will be good for Concordia students to meet with other Canadian youth to mobilize on the issue.

Conference tickets are being subsidized by the Sustainability Action Fund, which supports sustainable infrastructure and student projects at Concordia. That means the cost for Concordia students has been reduced from $45 to $20.

Many participants look forward to hearing from Montreal-born activist Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, and from Quebec student activist Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Sustainability Action Fund coordinator Jeffrey Riley says participants might learn a lot from Nadeau-Dubois about communications strategy.

“Getting your message across, reaching out to the public can be a very difficult task,” he says. “I think we can use his experience in helping us get the climate change message out there.”

Hannah McCormick, a coordinator of the Zero-Waste Campus campaign at Concordia, is definitely excited that “big names” like Klein and Nadeau-Dubois will be speaking at the conference.

“I’m also looking forward to hearing from people who have participated recently in direct environmental actions and have first-hand experience on what went well and what didn’t,” she says.

Students from McGill University and Dawson College also plan to attend the conference.

Check Tuesday’s newspaper for The Link’s coverage of the conference.

—with files from Hillary Lutes