Environmental Activism Blooms With Quebec Front Against Fossil Fuels
Many Groups Now Active in Fight for Desjardins Bank to Remove Investments in Fossil Fuels
In October 2017, TransCanada ceded to the demands of environmental activists and the Front commun pour la transition énergétique and cancelled their proposed Energy East pipeline project, which would have brought bitumen oil from Alberta’s tar-sands to export stations in New Brunswick.
Today, the network of 60 environmental groups is still active, and many still take part in the Mouvement Desjardins, a campaign led by Greenpeace that’s working to put pressure on the Desjardins bank to remove its investments in fossil fuels,
This winter, Desjardins gave a loan of $145 million to Kinder Morgan for the TransMountain pipeline in Western Canada. If Desjardins divested from fossil fuels it would become the first bank in Canada to officially cut the investment of fossil energies.
The coalition was created three years ago when the Energy East pipeline was announced by TransCanada. Despite their success this fall, the coalition said they don’t want to stop there, and their goal is to eradicate the exploration and exploitation of fossil energies in Quebec, so a shift to cleaner energy can begin.
The coalition represents a diverse number of environmental groups, like Équiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace. They also work with Indigenous groups, the Order of Nurses of Quebec and workers unions like the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec.
Operating as a platform to coordinate and establish strategies between organizations to be more efficient in their pressure tactics against hydrocarbon projects, the groups in the coalition want to be part of Quebec’s shift towards renewable energies.
“With the gravity of the situation, we could not stay in our corner,” said Anne-Céline Guyon, the coordinator of the coalition.
The groups from the coalition are working towards the same end, but they understand that not everyone partakes in activism the same way. When they fought TransCanada’s pipeline, different means of pressure were proposed to adapt to the different type of actions that activists we’re willing to take. They organized protests and petitions to overthrow the Energy East pipeline, and were able to gather 32,000 signatures for a petition in a week.
“It is much easier to get results when we are united,” said Isabelle L’Héritier from Alternatives, a social justice group in Montreal.
When TransCanada proposed its plan, the coalition worked in collaboration, using each other’s assets to establish a solid case. They used a wide array of strategies in their campaign, using media, law, public relations and political connections to apply pressure.
“We had TransCanada from all sides,” said Guyon.
Équiterre, for example, had close ties with the government, and worked with cabinet members from Quebec and Ottawa to get updates on the pipeline project.
“As soon as we had new information, we would share it with the other members of the Front,” said Geneviève Puskas from Équiterre.
The coalition has strong internal and external communications, which eases connections between big organizations and the RVHQ so they can work in concert. The RVHQ continues to do so, grouping 130 citizen committees to create a citizen movement against the fossil industry in Quebec, called the “Vous ne passerez pas” campaign.
The coalition showed their unity on social media by using the same images in their publications.
“It sends a message to the industry that we are all together and that they will have to face the Front,” said Guyon.
They are clear on their stance: Fossil fuels are not the solution. The situation is too grave so that the government persists on exploring fossil energies.
“It is clear for us, we have to keep fossil energies in the ground,” said Guyon.
The government’s laxness leads to fewer actions for a grave situation. By now, stricter rules should be in place to regulate the industry, Guyon said. The government should also shift its focus on sustainable energies.
“Quebec is somewhere else,” said Guyon. “We need to transform our energy system.”
“Quebec is somewhere else. We need to transform our energy system.”-Anne-Céline Guyon
Federal and Provincial Government Still Stuck on Fossil Fuels
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, both federal and provincial governments gave the equivalent of $3.3 billion to fossil energy companies in 2015.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s position on fossil energies is wobbly.
As part of his election campaign, he committed to phase out subsidies for fossil industries over the medium-term. Trudeau said that Alberta’s oil sands need to be phased out in a town meeting in Ontario.
His comment triggered a lot of anger in Alberta. He withdrew his words a few weeks later in Calgary during a two-day cabinet retreat.
“I misspoke,” he told reporters. “I said something the way I shouldn’t have said it.”
In March 2017 at Houston’s Cambridge Energy Research Associates Week, he reiterated that oil sands should be exploited.
“No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there,” Trudeau said then.
Canada certainly faces a conflict on its fossil resources. However, as Trudeau attempts to please everybody, recent studies show that more actions should be taken to adapt to global warming.
“The government does not have a solid strategy for eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” said Julie Gelfand from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, to the National Observer. “It is nowhere near being ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”
Jacques Tétrault from the RVHQ is critical of the external influence fossil energy companies have on environmental ministry. He also criticized the government for referencing environmental studies conducted by fossil energy companies. This situation showcases a clear conflict of interest, he said.
“It is the ideology of lobbyists that is starting to rule our country,” said Tétrault.
The environmental organizations of the RVHQ are consulted by the government but their recommendations are not always followed.
“We are consulted, but are we heard?” asked Tétrault.
The Destruction of the Environment: A Human Problem
Environmental issues are caused by the human overuse of the Earth’s resources, a problem that is embedded in the society, the coalition asserts. To reduce the effect of climate change, we must rethink our consumption model.
“There is a certain limit to what the Earth can give us,” said Tétrault.
The coalition said development can’t be infinite, and people need to reconsider their consumption and lifestyle habits.
“I believe that the real change comes from everyday actions,” said Puskas.
To replace fossil energy, the coalition proposes renewable energies such as hydroelectricity. But think that we should think thoroughly about the effects of energy transition projects before developing them. They also emphasize that we should diversify the types of energies that we use.
“We have to consider sustainability, but also the impact that the materials needed for the transition will have on populations and ecosystems,” said Guyon.
The key to success is education. The coalition said that they need the involvement of citizens to fulfill their mandate.
“We can’t change our energy system without the participation of citizens,” said Jean-François Boisvert from Montreal Climate Coalition.
Municipalities have been hearing the RVHQ’s concerns more closely now that some of their activists have been elected, Tétrault said.
Alternatives also facilitates discussions between Greenpeace and the FTQ, to find solutions for the loss of jobs related to fossil energies. The coalition wants to achieve their environmental goals, but always keeping in mind social justice, by emphasizing a consideration for land rights, indigenous rights and population’s concerns.
“To have a successful transition, humans have to be at the heart of the energetic transition,” said Guyon.
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