Outreach: Our Time: Youth activism in action

If they didn’t have people’s attention, that certainly changed after October 28, 2019. Twenty-seven youth climate change activists occupied the front entrance of the House of Commons in Ottawa and were subsequently arrested and banned from the premises. The protest earned national headlines and Our Time was officially on the map. Their message: the climate emergency must be a priority in all matters on the government agenda.

Formed prior to the 2019 federal election, Our Time positioned itself to mobilize the youth vote, endorsing 35 climate conscious candidates in the campaign. There interim goal was to get trusted politicians into government that vowed to make the climate emergency their primary focus. After eight of their endorsed candidates won seats in parliament, they were on their way to gaining more influence. In a sense, phase one of their action was complete.

Phase two came shortly thereafter. Just a week after the federal election, Our Time knew that the time to hold both re-elected and newly elected parliamentarians to account was at hand. What did they want? A Green New Deal for Canada. Borrowing its name in part from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping social reforms and government spending initiatives that helped pull his nation out of the Great Depression (a.k.a. the New Deal, 1933-1939), the Green New Deal hopes to see elected representatives around the world introduce sweeping climate change reforms to deal with the current climate crisis.

To accentuate their point they occupied the House of Commons. University of Waterloo student Gordon Winch put the Ottawa demonstration this way, “We occupied the House of Commons because we are the commons, we are the people and we deserve to be represented by our government.” Our Time believes that the kind of representation that Winch is speaking about has to be bold and unbending, with the climate crisis guiding every policy decision the government makes. Part of the House of Commons protest involved delivering each member of parliament a “mandate letter.” The letter pulls no punches. “Our generation has inherited a planet in crisis,” it says. “We have 11 years to get our house in order and address climate change on a systemic level. That means this government needs to act with urgency… We need you to rise above partisan politics and form a government that will implement a Green New Deal for the people.” The letter concludes with a rather ominous warning, “If you are on our side, you can count on us to support you every day. If not, know that you have our entire generation to contend with. Together, we can tackle the climate crisis.” A number of members of parliament have openly accepted and endorsed the mandate letter. Others have not even acknowledged receipt of the letter.

So what exactly is a Green New Deal for Canada. Our time says the plan has four pillars. From their perspective, the government must: 

  • Listen to the science – we have a short period of time to radically shift our method of governance and our economy. We need to prove that we are “all-in” when it comes to renewables and committed to ending the era of fossil fuel dominance.
  • Respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty – we need to follow the messaging that Indigenous communities have been sharing about the climate crisis for generations. We also need to acknowledge their territorial and treaty rights. Only then can real reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous people come to fruition.
  • Create millions of good jobs – not just any jobs – good, well paying, unionized jobs in the renewable energy sector. Governments can help fund the creation of these jobs by making sure big businesses and banks pay their fair share of taxes – eliminating tax shelters for the people who have the most money to offer in our time of greatest need.
  • Enshrine dignity, equality and justice for all – we have a Charter of Rights in Canada. Let’s follow it to the letter. Let’s demonstrate to all Canadian – including the disenfranchised, the poor and Indigenous communities – that the climate emergency is a global problem that Canada plans on tackling because it is a matter of justice and dignity for everyone.

The eight politicians carrying the Green New Deal banner to parliament are: Niki Ashton (Keewatinook Aski), Daniel Blaikie (Elwood-Transcona), Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemount-La Petite-Patrie), Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway), Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre), Matthew Green (Hamilton Centre), Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby) and Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East). While all of the MPs have been vocal in their support of Our Time, Matthew Green made a point of joining the 27 protesters after they were kicked out of the House of Commons and accepted his mandate letter in person. Meanwhile, Peter Julian introduced a Green New Deal motion in the House of Commons in December 2019. With the motion now on the table, the government will need to respond.

Our Time is ready for the next phase of the battle. Besides holding politicians to account, they will continue to mobilize youth to fight for the sake of the planet’s health. Judging by their success in the 2019 federal election and their involvement in the massive climate strike in September 2019 (where nearly one million Canadians, mostly young people, took part in demonstrations from coast to coast to coast), it appears that Our Time has an audience that is eager to rally behind their message.

By Sean Dolan

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