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Canada Traitor or 'radical pragmatist'? Environmentalist fights to sell Liberal climate change plan

23:28  17 october  2019
23:28  17 october  2019 Source:   nationalpost.com

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MONTREAL — On the red-brick wall of his campaign office in the heart of Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal, Steven Guilbeault has hung a large photo of the time he scaled Toronto’s CN Tower. 

It’s his best-known act of civil disobedience. In 2001, while working for Greenpeace, Guilbeault and another activist climbed 340 metres up the side of the tower and unfurled a banner that read “Canada and Bush Climate Killers.” It was intended to put pressure on the federal government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. 

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The photo shows two tiny figures below the enormous banner — Guilbeault was the one on the left, he says. The entire stunt lasted 12 hours and they were arrested afterward. He was 31 at the time.

The episode came up again recently, when Guilbeault, now a star Liberal candidate in the Montreal riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie, was asked about a group of Extinction Rebellion climate activists who climbed a Montreal-area bridge last week and forced its closure.

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Guilbeault was sympathetic to the protesters, but made clear he’s no longer part of that crowd. “I decided I’ve already done that. As the anglophones say, ‘Been there, done that, got the T-shirt,'” he told reporters. “So I’ve decided to pursue my political action differently.”

Likely Quebec’s best-known environmentalist, Guilbeault announced last fall he was leaving Équiterre, the Montreal environmental organization he cofounded 25 years earlier. At the time, there was speculation he was mulling a run for the Liberals, a rumour he confirmed last June. 

To his opponents, Guilbeault’s decision to run for the party that bought the Trans Mountain pipeline is a betrayal of the environmental movement he helped build. For his part, Guilbeault openly opposes the pipeline expansion, but insists this Liberal government has done more for the environment than any other.

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Guilbeault’s calculation is that the benefits outweigh the costs — that some action on climate change, however imperfect, is better than the alternative on offer from the Conservatives. It’s not a particularly inspiring message from the man who once spent four hours climbing what was then the tallest structure in the world. But it’s the pitch Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is making to the record number of Canadians who list climate change as a top priority in this election: we are the best option you have. 

In Guilbeault, the Liberals have found a symbol of their promise to fight climate change, but also a reflection of their willingness to compromise — he calls himself a “radical pragmatist.” It remains to be seen whether that offer will be enough in a riding where all the major candidates are colouring themselves green.

 

“I think in many ways… I’m still this guy who climbed the CN Tower,” Guilbeault said in an interview. “But to me, civil disobedience was never a goal in and of itself. It was just a tool. And now I’m using different tools.”

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Laurier—Sainte-Marie is a densely populated tract of Montreal that includes the gentrified Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End neighbourhoods, as well as much poorer parts of the city’s downtown and Centre-Sud.

That juxtaposition makes for striking inequalities in the riding: food security and homelessness are real problems here, even as an influx of French immigrants to the trendy Plateau has led Bloc Québécois candidate Michel Duchesne, a local writer and university instructor, to dub it “the 21 st arrondissement of Paris.” 

Laurier—Sainte-Marie was the seat of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who held it from 1990 until he was unseated by NDP MP Hélène Laverdière in the Orange Wave of 2011. Laverdière held onto the riding in 2015, but is not running again. Her successor is Nimâ Machouf, an epidemiologist who has long been involved in progressive politics at the municipal and provincial levels.

This time, it’s looking like a tight race between the Liberals, Bloc and NDP, and it seems the fight for the riding boils down to a single question: who is the greenest of them all? Climate change is top of mind for many voters here, and candidates who talk about it in terms of “war crimes” and “ecocide” are often met with applause. Green Party candidate Jamil Azzaoui claims his is the only party with credibility on the environment, but the Greens have failed to make much of an impact in Quebec. The Conservatives, who are not competitive in the riding, have named Lise des Greniers as their candidate.

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Guilbeault certainly has the environmental credentials — he has advised several provincial governments on climate change, and was named co-chair last November of a panel that advised the Liberal government on how best to meet its climate targets.

But he is vulnerable to accusations of treachery. At the end of a recent debate at a Montreal college, a 20-year-old activist named Francis Allen approached the microphone, one of several students wearing hospital masks as part of a climate protest. “How are you not betraying the environmental movement when you go from a movement like Équiterre to a government that still invests in the oil industry?” he asked. “Do you not feel you’re a traitor to the cause?”

“Some people would have you believe these things are very simple,” Guilbeault answered, saying he doesn’t feel like a traitor. But Allen wasn’t convinced. “I think the idea of changing politics from the inside, especially from within a government like the Liberals, I think it’s super naïve,” he told the National Post.

That sentiment is echoed by Guilbeault’s rivals. All the major parties aside from the Conservatives oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. “We think that Guilbeault is kind of a green-washing stamp,” Duchesne said in an interview. “It’s a marketing thing.”

This week, eight representatives of Quebec environmental organizations published an open letter accusing Guilbeault of wearing “green makeup” and having permanently broken with the environmental movement. 

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Machouf said Guilbeault is defending the record of a government that has set the bar far too low on climate action. “He’s doing everything he can to say it’s better than the Conservatives,” she said. “Should we content ourselves simply with doing better than the Conservatives?”

Still, Guilbeault’s message has resonated here. Outside a grocery store on the busy Mont-Royal Avenue where Machouf and a group of volunteers gathered recently to chat with voters, several passers-by told her they were thinking of voting Liberal this time, though the riding hasn’t elected a Liberal in 30 years.

One woman said she plans to vote strategically to avoid a Conservative government. Another man, who said he’s always voted NDP, told her he thinks Guilbeault would be listened to in government.

Justin Trudeau, Steven Guilbeault holding a sign:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raises the hand of Steven Guilbeault during an event to launch his candidacy for the Liberal party of Canada in Montreal, July 10, 2019. © Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raises the hand of Steven Guilbeault during an event to launch his candidacy for the Liberal party of Canada in Montreal, July 10, 2019.

Her response is to tell people they need to vote with their heart, not out of fear. “The Liberals don’t give people a choice. They scare people, they say you have no choice other than to vote for us,” she told the Post. “We say it’s not true. You have a choice.”

But Machouf is facing other hurdles here. One woman told her she’s not sure about NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, “with his turban and his beard,” and felt his religious symbols wouldn’t be a good image for a Canadian prime minister. Machouf told her, rather frankly, that it’s unlikely Singh will be prime minister and that she should think instead about voting for a strong NDP opposition.

Polls suggest the NDP is unlikely to hold on to more than a couple of seats in Quebec and Duchesne said the party doesn’t have deep roots in Laurier—Sainte-Marie. “The NDP was a summer fling that lasted eight years,” he said. “It was primarily a protest vote.”

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Guilbeault’s opponents liken him to former French environment minister Nicolas Hulot, an environmentalist who resigned from President Emmanuel Macron’s government last year after becoming disillusioned with the slow pace of action on climate change.

To that, Guilbeault responds that he’s realistic about what he can achieve. “I’ve done enough work on public policy over the last 25 years (to know) that you win some, you lose some,” he said. “And you keep going at it because you believe that what you’re doing is right.”

He says he hasn’t made a list of deal-breakers that would cost the Liberals his support. He doesn’t believe any more pipelines will be approved under Canada’s new environmental assessment process.

Still, he said, he’s testing certain friendships now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring for the Liberals. He’s hoping it will be worthwhile. “I’m going to go (to Ottawa) and I’m going to work like a madman for the next four years to do everything I can to move the climate agenda and the environmental agenda,” he said.

Despite that photo of the CN Tower in his office, it’s a very different image of Guilbeault the residents of Laurier—Sainte-Marie are faced with today. Posters of a smiling Guilbeault are fixed to signposts on just about every street corner in the riding, on a background of Liberal red.

It’s here that some residents have chosen to voice their displeasure. “No pipelines,” reads the graffiti scrawled across his face on one campaign sign. “Traitor,” someone has etched on another.

Guilbeault says his campaign usually tries to take down vandalized signs. But there’s one, in the northeast corner of the riding, that he knows about but has chosen to leave up. He says he gets the sentiment.

“I understand,” someone has written in neat letters across the sign, “but I disagree.”

• Email: mforrest@postmedia.com | Twitter: MauraForrest

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Can the courts legislate action on climate change? .
Canadian youth have filed a lawsuit against the government for violating their rights to security and equality. It is one of nearly 1,400 climate lawsuits worldwide.The lawsuit alleges that the government has violated the youths’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter by failing to protect essential public trust resources like air and water. It also alleges that the government has violated the youths’ right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, and it asks the government to prepare a plan to get off fossil fuels.

usr: 6
This is interesting!