A remarkable event happened in Victoria 10 days ago. At short notice, about 300 people crowded into the gym of the Fernwood Community Centre to discuss the Green New Deal. They came from all walks of life: Indigenous leaders, farmers from Sooke, social justice activists, high-school student leaders of the climate strikes, local clean-energy pioneers, retired government lawyers, urban-development experts, union leaders, local politicians and many others.
Inspired by the Green New Deal proposal in the United States and Le Pacte in Quebec, the Pact for a Green New Deal for Canada rests on two fundamental principles:
“It must meet the demands of Indigenous knowledge and science and cut Canada’s [carbon dioxide] emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity.
“It must also leave no one behind and build a better present and future for all of us.”
As of May 5, the pact is endorsed by 70 organizations from different sectors across Canada. There are nine in British Columbia, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and many individuals, a high proportion of whom are leading musicians and actors.
The Victoria event was organized by a group of remarkable young leaders, mostly in their 20s, and it filled me with hope in these challenging times. The local sponsoring organizations included Rise and Resist, the Social Environmental Alliance, Canadian Union of Postal Workers 850, First Metropolitan United Church, Rethinking Economics Victoria and the Women’s March — Victoria Chapter.
Even more remarkable, this is one of 200 public meetings taking place across Canada between late May and late June, all put together in just a couple of months. In this region, there are townhalls planned or already taken place in Brentwood Bay, Surrey, Coquitlam, Nanaimo, Burnaby, Vancouver, New Westminster and Ganges.
The Green New Deal addresses both the need for what, many years ago, I called ecological sanity, and social justice.
The Pact notes: “Many of us are struggling to find an affordable place to live, or a decent job to support our families. Hate crimes and racism are on the rise and promises to Indigenous peoples have yet to be implemented. We need an ambitious plan to deal with multiple crises at the same time.”
This is one of the keys to understanding our present situation. We must recognize that these ecological and social crises are happening simultaneously and they are interlinked. We have lost our sense of connection to nature, rooted in Indigenous and long-neglected European and other systems of knowledge and belief. As a result, we treat the Earth as separate from us, something to be exploited to meet people’s needs and make them rich, regardless of the consequences.
But as William Leiss noted in his 1972 book The Domination of Nature: “If the idea of domination of nature has any meaning at all, it is that by such means … some men attempt to dominate and control other men [sic].” The underlying values of acquisitiveness, enrichment, greed and domination that lead to ecological insanity also lead to social injustice. We cannot solve one without solving the other. This is what the Green New Deal recognizes and seeks to address.
It is hard to tell where this will go. It’s all new — although there are clear parallels to the Green Party’s approach. The Party’s recent successes in the Nanaimo byelection, in Prince Edward Island — where the Greens form the official Opposition, and — last week — in the European elections, suggest the mainstream parties should be concerned. People, especially young people, do not believe these mainstream parties either understand the problems nor have the solutions. This is clear when one considers the ongoing support for further expanding fossil-fuel exploitation from the federal Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP in B.C .and Conservative governments in many provinces.
Stay tuned. The next local meeting of the Green New Deal will be June 19, at 6:30 p.m., at the First Metropolitan United Church, 932 Balmoral Rd. in Victoria.
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.