Toronto conference lays basis for pipeline challenge

Teach-in delivers a clear grass roots message: there is now a strong basis for organizing education and broad collective action to stop Enbridge from piping tar sands oil across southern Ontario.

The November 17 conference, “The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9,” was a big success. Three hundred people jammed into a lecture theatre at University of Toronto for the plenary session. Every seat was taken, more than 50 people stood or sat in the aisles, and an equal number listened from just outside the door.

The unusually large turnout for an educational teach-in shows clearly that there is now a basis for organized public initiatives against the threat of hazardous tar sands oil being piped across southern Ontario and Toronto through Enbridge Inc.’s “Line 9.”

The all-day conference, which included 16 workshops led by 35 speakers and facilitators, was attended by close to 400 participants in all.

The initial session featured sixteen speakers in six simultaneous workshops. Each workshop took up a different form of the tar sands’ challenge: to communities, to unionized and migrant workers, to the Global South, to climate stability, to native–non-native relations, and to environmental movements.

Following the plenary session, the conference closed with a People’s Assembly. Five workshops considering different issues involved in tar sands resistance were followed by five more bringing together activists in different regions of Toronto and Ontario.

Piping tar sands oil east

Line 9 was built in 1975 and is now configured to transport imported oil from Montreal to refineries in Sarnia. Enbridge has applied to Canada’s National Energy Board to reverse its direction of flow, so that it can pipe Alberta oil to Montreal. The pipeline giant admits that among the possible uses of Line 9 is transport of “heavy oil,” a category that includes bitumen, the hazardous raw material extracted from tar sands.

Tar sands profiteers now face the prospect of declining demand and declining prices in theU.S., while plans to export the product to the west coast have run into a wall of popular opposition in British Colombia. The oil giants have responded with projects to ship their raw product east to Montreal and  the Atlantic Coast for export.

This puts them and their government backers on a collision course with communities in Ontario and Quebec that could be victims of tar-sands pipeline leaks and ruptures.

Indigenous challenge

The November 17 conference highlighted the role of First Nations both as victims of the tar sands threat and as leaders in resisting it.

In the plenary session, Vanessa Gray, a youth organizer from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, spoke of the dilemma of youth in her community. Aamjiwnaang residents’ health is severely undermined by pollution from oil refineries in nearby Sarnia, a present destination of tar sands bitumen. Indigenous young people “are starting from a hopeless place … frustrated and scared,” Gray said. “They are willing to fight for a better future but can’t do this on their own. They need support and help and encouragement.”

Aaron Detlor of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) Development Institute also launched a challenge to the audience, relating to Enbridge’s Line 9. “We don’t see how movement of tar sands products helps develop sustainable communities,” he said. “Enbridge says they don’t need to talk to us. We are sceptical about a court process. We have our own process… The next step is a cease and desist order from the chiefs.”

The meaning of such an order was spelled out by Haudenosaunee land defender Wes Elliott, using the example of a recent dispute with a giant corporation, Samsung. “We issued a cease and desist order…. They refused to discuss with us,” he said. “That night, word went out to our allies. With ten hours notice we had at least a hundred people [on the disputed site], some of whom are in this room. Samsung then negotiated with our Confederacy.”

Following the incident, the chiefs made an unprecedented declaration thanking the allies. “Things can be done when you have allies,” Elliot said.

“We are at a crossroads,” Detlor explained. Given the possibility of a cease and desist order, “we need to come up with some strategic means for developing a relationship among the different groups here today, and come up with something concrete.”

‘We now have the support of 80%’

Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations, described how such a strategic alliance has been forged in British Columbia. A decade ago, the ten component peoples of Coastal First Nations had united all stakeholders in their region around a plan for sustainable development, winning agreement from the B.C. government in 2001.

Then Enbridge announced its “Northern Gateway” project to pipe and ship tar sands bitumen across the Great Bear Rainforest – the lands of Coastal First Nations. “It was a bomb that would destroy everything we stood for,” said Sterritt. “So we declared a ban on tanker traffic in the Great Bear Rainforest.”

To make the ban effective, the First Nations had to go beyond the 20,000 members of their alliance and “win all the people in B.C.,” Sterritt said.

“We now have support of 80% to stop Northern Gateway. That is what you will need to do to stop Line 9.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to drive the Enbridge pipeline through, regardless. “So we are getting ready legally, politically, and with direct action,” Sterritt said. At a rally of 5,000 protesters in Victoria, October 22, Sterritt asked who is prepared, if Harper bulls ahead, “to lie down in front of the bulldozers. They all said, ‘We will’ – men, women, and children. And I have 10,000 personal pledges to do just that.”

The final speaker in the plenary session was Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “We must fight the expansion of the tar sands, the most terrible energy product in the world,” she said. “We have to stop the growth of the pipelines. If we can stop the arteries, we can halt growth of tar sands extraction.”

In British Columbia, “132 First Nations communities say [to Enbridge], you will not pass.” The people of eastern Canada must now build an equally effective alliance. “What we do here in the East is for the whole world,” Barlow said.

“The oil companies have more money than we can ever dream of. But we have the passion of our people, … and with the outpouring of support we are receiving from all over the continent we will confront big oil and protect our lands and our rights.”

Time for action

Only two months ago, almost no one in Toronto had heard of the Line 9 threat. Energetic educational work has now alerted a wide range of progressive activists, and the pipeline controversy has begun receiving coverage in major media.

The November 17 teach-in was not geared to the discussion or adoption of specific proposals, but the unexpectedly large turn-out delivered a clear message from the grass roots: there is a strong basis to begin organizing broadened education and collective action to stop Line 9.

That is the challenge now facing climate justice activists in Toronto and southern Ontario.

Timing is Everything When Talking About Climate Change

Sometimes, when talking about climate change, timing is everything. A week after Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States causing significant devastation and impacting tens of millions of people very directly (including 150,000 people in Ontario who lost power), Matt Galloway, the host of CBC Toronto’s morning show, Metro Morning, spoke with Lawson Oates, Director of the Toronto Environment Office about a report going to the City’s Parks and Environment Committee on November 9th entitled: Toronto’s Future Weather & Climate Driver Study.

The report, prepared by SENES Consulting with the Toronto Environment Office, looks at what Toronto’s climate will look like by 2050. The study notes that the city will see increased heat waves, increasing temperatures in the winter, and more intensive rain storms.

Mr. Oates emphasized the costs associated with these major impacts, noting that while a one hour deluge in August 2005 cost the city $47 million and caused $600 million in insured losses for residents, future storms may be more intense and costly.

The report also notes that the number of days with temperatures more than 30 degrees will more than triple, with maximum humidex ratings reaching up to the high 50s. He emphasized the need to adapt in order to avoid costly repairs in the future, protect vulnerable populations, and avoid the loss of services which have significant impacts on people and businesses.

Revolution Movie

Revolution is a film about changing the world. The true-life adventure of Rob Stewart, this follow-up to his acclaimed Sharkwater documentary continues his remarkable journey; one that will take him through 15 countries over four years, and where he’ll discover that it’s not only sharks that are in grave danger – it’s humanity itself.

revolution-posterIn an effort to uncover the truth and find the secret to saving the ecosystems we depend on for survival, Stewart embarks on a life-threatening adventure. From the coral reefs in Papua New Guinea and deforestation in Madagascar to the largest and most destructive environmental project in history in Alberta, Canada, he reveals that all of our actions are interconnected and that environmental degradation, species loss, ocean acidification, pollution and food/water scarcity are reducing the Earth’s ability to house humans. How did this happen, and what will it take to change the course that humanity has set itself on?

Traveling the globe to meet with the dedicated individuals and organizations working on a solution, Stewart finds encouragement and hope, pointing to the revolutions of the past and how we’ve evolved and changed our course in times of necessity. If people were informed about what was really going on, they would fight for their future – and the future of other generations. From the evolution of our species to the revolution to save it, Stewart and his team take viewers on a groundbreaking mission into the greatest war ever waged.

Startling, beautiful, and provocative, Revolution inspires audiences from across the globe to start a revolution and change the world forever.

5 Actions to Prepare Toronto for Climate Change

To help prepare Toronto for climate change, TEA is sharing a short list of 5 actions you can take today!

1. Keep rainwater out of your home and sewers. Disconnect your downspouts from city sewers, replace hard surfaces with absorbent, green ones, and protect yourself against basement flooding. Get inspired by the Paradise Unpaved story, written by TEA member and local artist Franke James!

2. Reduce your electricity use. Our city’s electricity system is old and needs major upgrading. We need to build a more resilient electricity grid, and we also need to reduce our electricity demand, especially during peak hours. Turn off electronic devices when not in use and support green energy projects. Learn about TEA’s Smog and Climate Change campaign.

3. Promote green infrastructure. Trees and plants — both in Toronto and around it — are key to absorbing water and cooling us down during hot days. Tell your MPP and City Councillors to invest in green infrastructure, protect the Greenbelt and increase Torontos’ tree canopy.

4. Keep your car at home; use public transit, walk or cycle.Climate change happens when we burn fossil fuels. Cars and light trucks are responsible for 37% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions. By driving less, we reduce how bad climate change will be and we improve local air quality!

5. Tell your City Councillor to stop cutting Toronto’s climate change budget. City staff developed a plan in 2008 called Ahead of the Storm. Unfortunately, staff and program cutshave slowed down staff efforts to get Toronto ready.