What is democracy if you can’t speak out?

By Robin Tress

This morning, in a briefing with the Canadian Delegation, Malkolm asked an (apparently) very difficult question. He asked, “Guy, can you look me in the eye and tell me that you are negotiating in good faith on behalf of my future?” Deputy Minister of the Environment Paul Hood literally jumped at the chance to speak to this question.

He lept from his seat to reach a microphone, and told us that “I’m the Deputy Minister of the Environment for Canada. I’m looking you in the eye, and I just want to say that if you look at that we are doing domestically, because that’s what we have control of, meeting our Copenhagen target. We’re a quarter of the way there, we still have a long way to go, but we are a quarter of the way there. And, when you look at our new report in the spring, you’ll see that we are making additional progress. So can I look you in the eye and say that the 7000 people at EC are working as hard as they can to deal with climate change, the answer is yes.”

I walked out as he was saying ‘the answer is yes’. The bullshit was just so rank I couldn’t take it anymore.

The 17% reduction he is referring to comes out of the Copenhagen Accord. Canada committed to reducing its emissions by 17% below 2005 levels, which amounts to an increase above 1990 emissions levels. This is insufficient. Anyone who thinks that is adequate is either completely uninformed of the science, delusional, or is oblivious to human suffering.

If we meet our Cancun commitments, we’ll be ‘60% of the way there’. What does that even MEAN!? 60% of the way to meaningfully contributing to a solution? 60% of the way to reducing by 17%? I’m inclined to believe he meant the latter, and 60% of the way to a crappy target is pathetic. Furthermore, the Cancun agreements were largely around financing structures and included no targets. This should not be a point of pride for the Canadian government. It should be a point of absolute shame. 60% of the way to continuing to violate human rights. Hurray.

I waited outside the room for the remainder of the meeting, collecting my thoughts, hoping to catch the Deputy Minister on his way out. Upon exiting the room, he approached me and said, “You shouldn’t question the integrity of public servants.” Really? I can’t question the integrity of people in executive positions at Environment Canada for not protecting Canada’s environment?

I replied to this statement with a question: how can youth and other climate activists help people at EC force change? How can we influence policy at this time? The regular channels of participation have been shut down. The Canadian Environmental Network, a main route of consultation with EC, has had all of its federal funding revoked. Meeting with the Minister is next to impossible, and he doesn’t pay much respect or attention to the opposition parties, NGOs, or citizen’s concerns. His reply: This is a democracy. People voted for this majority government. Next time you should get out the vote. I tried to tell him that democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box, but he walked away.

I learned a lot from this short interaction. Primarily, it became clear to me that those in positions of power in the government are very defensive about the Government of Canada’s policies, which leads me to believe that they don’t have faith in the policies’ legitimacy. Small win – we can use that knowledge when trying to bring officials to ‘our side’.

That morning, I truly internalized the fact that our democratic system is very, very ineffective. We all know that this majority government  was obtained with less than half of the popular vote, misrepresents the majority of Canadians, and is actively paring down on meaningful consultation with constituents. I also learned that climate change is a much more political issue than I had ever imagined and will require a truly political solution in Canada.

One Response to “What is democracy if you can’t speak out?”
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  1. […] And four youth stood up, one even tipping his chair over, and stormed out of the room. While it was exciting, and it made their point, it also sent the message that “we can’t talk to you.” And as Moderator Mardi Tindal said, “Pragmatically, we need to find a way forward. We need to listen to each other long and hard enough, listen intently enough, to find a way forward because we can do nothing less.” To read about additional conversation between these youth and Paul Booth, click here. […]

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