This past Monday over 60 groups from across Canada — including Our Time, a youth-led campaign I’m organizing with — launched the Pact for a Green New Deal. It’s a call for politicians in Canada to present a climate plan in line with climate science and Indigenous teachings that creates millions of good jobs and addresses inequality.
Tens of thousands of people have already signed on in support, catching the attention of federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. The same day the Pact went live, she published an op-ed about her and her government’s climate record. Reading it, I was struck by inconsistencies between McKenna’s thoughts and my own experience as a young person who has been organizing for climate justice throughout McKenna's term in office.
One of my first organizing experiences was with a campaign called the People’s Climate Plan in 2016. We were organizing around the federal climate change town halls, doing outreach and providing support for people in our communities to show up and speak up for ambitious climate policy.
I spent countless hours that spring and summer talking to people in Halifax and, as a result, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore’s town hall was packed, with 250 people in attendance. The people at that town hall were clear: they wanted climate action in Canada to end fossil fuel expansion, support workers in the transition to a renewable economy, and fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — including the right to free, prior, and informed consent for natural resource projects. And all across the country, the same demands emerged in other towns halls — we even wrote a report about it for McKenna.
But McKenna ignored our voices. Instead, she approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, along with other pipeline projects. She greenlit offshore drilling in the Atlantic and granted special permits for the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia. None of these projects have received consent from the First Nations whose lands and waters would be affected by them. In many cases, that meant McKenna’s approvals were followed by violent police action against Indigenous land and water protectors. This is all the more disturbing when we remember that over a hundred Indigenous communities still lack access to safe drinking water while the Liberal government has spent billions subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, including buying a pipeline for $4.5 billion.
When Catherine McKenna defends her climate achievements, she’s championing targets borrowed from Stephen Harper and a climate plan so unambitious it won’t even meet its own weak targets. Instead of aiming for the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree limit, McKenna’s climate strategy puts us on track for 5 degrees of warming.
McKenna’s pride in her climate record rings hollow when so many, especially frontline communities, have been fighting tooth and nail against the disastrous fossil fuel projects she’s approved. People have sacrificed so much — time, energy, money, even their freedom — to fight her government’s fossil fuel projects. Hundreds of people were arrested in Vancouver last year opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline. A year earlier, I was among 99 young people arrested on Parliament Hill calling on her government to reject the pipeline in the first place. Her government stood behind a violent raid in unceded Wet'suwet'en Territory this past winter to help Coastal GasLink build their pipeline. That time, 14 people were arrested, and last month, it was three Mi’kmaw grandmothers who were arrested while protecting the Sipekne’katik River from the Alton Gas project on unceded Mi’kma’ki.
McKenna’s true climate legacy is one of increased emissions, handouts and approvals for fossil fuel companies; constant protests from coast to coast; and arrests of Indigenous peoples on their own unceded lands. It is not, as she argued, “a plan for stronger communities today, and a future in which our kids and grandkids will prosper,” because her climate plan puts us on a warming pathway that ensures devastating impacts on my generation, let alone those that come next.
Last fall when I was part of youth-led sit-ins in MP offices across Canada, Andy Fillmore told me that our demands for a livable climate, good jobs, and Indigenous rights were asking for too much, too fast. He said that if we kept making these demands, we would ensure the Conservatives would win.
He’s wrong. We’re only asking for what is necessary — a climate plan that is in line with what science and justice demand.
Young people are not fooled by the empty words of politicians like McKenna. We're angry and scared, but we’re organizing and we're determined to fight for our future. We need a real climate plan, from real climate leaders. That won’t be Andrew Scheer, who speaks at pro-oil rallies alongside white supremacists. And, unless they start showing us actions that match their promises, it won’t be Catherine McKenna or Justin Trudeau, who tell us to slow down and accept climate plans that leave us an unlivable future. We’re not accepting anything less than a justice-centred Green New Deal for Canada. So honestly, politicians like Minister McKenna need to step the f*ck up or step aside.
Laura Cutmore has been a climate justice organizer since 2016 and is currently organizing with Our Time, a youth-led campaign for a Green New Deal in Canada. She's based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, on unceded Mi'kmaq Territory. Get involved with Our Time by signing up at our-time.ca.