A group of youth were forcibly removed from the House of Commons Monday morning after staging a protest demanding real climate action from the new Parliament. One of the participants, Julia da Silva, explains what motivated today's protest in Ottawa.
It was 385 days ago when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us 12 years to be well on our way to transforming our economy to tackle the climate crisis. In Canada, we cannot afford to waste four more of those precious years.
That’s why I participated today in an occupation of the House of Commons in Ottawa with 30 other youth to demand politicians come together and form a government that will make a Green New Deal for Canada priority number one in this new Parliament.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been arrested for climate action like this.
‘Real Change’ promises broken
I was a few months too young to vote in the 2015 federal election. But it was the first election I could remember that didn’t put a Conservative government into office, and there was a flurry of excitement from those around me celebrating the hope that things could be better. And, for those just slightly older than me who were able to vote, that flurry translated into very real numbers: voter turnout among people 18 to 24 surged that year.
Back then, the “Real Change” Justin Trudeau promised in his first campaign was long overdue. And that’s when the restructuring of the entire way our economy functions in order to deal with the climate crisis should have been started. But, as has happened with so many politicians before him, Trudeau quickly turned to the status quo, approving climate-wrecking pipelines, ignoring Indigenous rights, and putting the interests of fossil fuel billionaires over the rest of us.
That’s what drew me to the Oct. 24, 2016 protest, my first ever, on Parliament Hill with other youth. We were there because Trudeau, the self-appointed minister of youth, was selling off our collective future to the fossil fuel industry. Our message was simple: fail to be the climate leader you promised to be, and you will lose the youth vote.
No youth wave for Trudeau this time
We don’t have a full breakdown of who voted in this month’s election yet, but polls during the campaign suggested youth and millennials were turning away from Trudeau, especially after the September climate strikes. Furthermore, exit polls from the election indicate that a lot of the youth vote was “strategic voting,” suggesting that many young people only cast ballots for Trudeau’s Liberals out of a fear that our broken electoral system could deliver a Conservative government.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that this new government is not arriving on a wave of excitement and hope. That doesn’t mean hope and excitement don’t exist, just that they’re not a product of Justin Trudeau’s re-election. This time hope is something our movement is creating.
I spent the last six months talking to people my age who saw the need for transformative change. Organizing with the Our Time campaign, a youth coalition fighting for a made-in-Canada Green New Deal, I heard genuine excitement for climate action that goes beyond weak carbon taxes and corporate subsidies, instead providing low-carbon jobs and a just transition for everyone.
More than that, I knew we were building something that could win. On election day, I, like hundreds of other youth across the country, was volunteering for a Green New Deal Champion, one of the candidates that Our Time endorsed across the country. I knew then, as we are demonstrating today, that regardless of the outcome at the ballot box we were building the collective power we needed to hold whoever ended up in power to account.
During the campaign Trudeau promised to increase Canada’s climate ambition and pass a Just Transition Act. And most of the country who voted did so for parties promising bolder climate action. But, in the days after the election, Trudeau has indicated his new government will prioritize tax cuts and pipelines.
That’s why when I joined more than two dozen other youth with the Our Time campaign to occupy the House of Commons today, we brought “Mandate Letters from Our Generation”. Like Trudeau’s highly publicized mandate letters to his ministers in 2015, ours lay out priorities for the next government, starting with rising above partisan politics and business as usual to govern for a Green New Deal.
During Trudeau’s first term, we lost four critical years. We should have been massively investing in renewable energy, cutting subsidies to fossil fuels, and, at a bare minimum, not continuing to steal Indigenous land to build fossil fuel infrastructure. We can’t afford to lose that kind of time again.
Julia da Silva is an organizer with Climate Justice Toronto and Our Time Toronto.