Hamilton climate rally asks party leaders to ditch fossil fuels
The event is one of 64 across Canada trying to bring climate to the fore of the election campaign
With just over a week left to go before election day, Hamiltonians are rallying to demand political parties take the climate emergency seriously and make immediate plans to transition the country from fossil fuels.
"It seems climate change is top-of-mind for the public, but the politicians are just going through the motions," Grant Linney told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday in advance of a rally at city hall, where Linney was one of several expected speakers. "They're not understanding that time is running out and there are some pretty grave consequences."
The event was one of 64 rallies being held nationally on Wednesday under a "Canada on Fire" slogan. It was coordinated by 350 Canada, an environmental movement pushing for "an urgent and robust just transition plan that leaves no one behind and moves us past fossil fuels," according to 350 Canada digital organizer Chris Gusen.
Linney is a founding member of Hamilton Blue Dot, the local branch of a national group pushing politicians at all levels to declare a healthy environment as a guaranteed right. He says there was wording to that effect in a proposed update to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, a bill that would have enshrined Canadians' rights to be protected from environmental ills, but that died on the order paper when the election was called.
"There was some feeling we had made progress with the feds," he said. "We just hope that [during this week's federal leaders' debates] there will be questions [about climate action] and the leaders will be obliged to answer."
He noted that even after his group achieves its goal of enshrining the right to a healthy environment, continued citizen pressure will be required to move those words into action. Linney points to Hamilton City Council's 2015 declaration of the right to a healthy environment, which he says has resulted in very little action.
He noted the same about council's more recent declaration of a climate emergency. "There's a gap between words and deeds for sure."
'Not enough action'
Hamilton city council declared a climate emergency in 2019. Since then, they have convened a Corporate Climate Change Task Force, which has set climate goals and emissions targets, but Linney says not enough concrete action has transpired.
On a federal level, major parties have included climate-related items in their platforms. The Liberals have numerous initiatives in the party's platform, including spurring green innovation, increasing the price on pollution and cutting methane emissions.
The NDP is promising to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and to power Canada with net-zero electricity by 2030. The Conservatives say they would lower the price on carbon and instead give Canadians money back in a carbon savings account each time they buy fuel. The Greens say they will end all extraction of fossil fuels.
On Wednesday, organizers said a handful of local federal candidates were present at the rally, including the Hamilton Centre NDP and Green candidates (Matthew Green and Avra Caroline Weinstein, respectively), as well as two other Greens. MPP Sandy Shaw was also in attendance, they said.
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"The Liberals would like you to believe that they are climate champions," Linney said. "We are now exporting more oil and gas than we are using at home. The oil, gas and coal that we are exporting is responsible for emissions we don't have to count in our total greenhouse gases."
Further, Linney says Canada is one of the only countries in the G7 that has seen its emissions increase since 1990. Even since 2000, he says Canada's emissions have barely budged.
"There has been the most minor fluctuation up and down but it's shocking that it hasn't changed [more]."
A call for student engagement
Adeola Egbeyemi, who spoke at the Wednesday event on behalf of MacDivest, says her group's push for McMaster University to dump its fossil-fuel investments is well-aligned with 350 Canada's values of hastening the transition to green energy.
Egbeyemi, a coordinator with MacDivest, says she hopes to bring a youth perspective to the discussion. She said students are becoming increasingly aware that systemic change — not individual-level choices — is the only way to solve the crisis.
"We're not being fooled," she said, noting actions such as recycling, while positive, pale in comparison to industrial-level emissions. "We're seeing how industries, corporations and governments are failing."
When it comes to this election, Egbeyemi says her organization is "emphasizing the importance of voting and the importance of getting students to tell individuals about voting. We're really pushing for students to become disruptors."
For the leaders' debates this week, she says it won't cut it for the candidates to simply acknowledge climate change is real and that something must be done.
"What we'd really like to see is commitment to actions, that next step," she said. "350's demand is a fossil fuel moratorium combined with a just transition… That means supporting impacted workers and communities, especially Indigenous and remote communities, as we transition away from fossil fuels."