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Powershift Brings Hallowe'en Early to Government, Polluters

Hundreds set to participate in "Toxic Trick or Treat" in Ottawa this morning

by Tim McSorley

Powershift opening event MCs Brigette DePape and Clayton Thomas-Muller in costume announcing the Toxic Trick or Treat march. PHOTO: Powershift
Powershift opening event MCs Brigette DePape and Clayton Thomas-Muller in costume announcing the Toxic Trick or Treat march. PHOTO: Powershift

OTTAWA—After three days inside, Powershift 2012 is ready to hit the streets.

Monday morning, over 800 environmental activists from across Canada will be taking part in a Toxic Trick or Treat. Starting on Parliament Hill, they will then go “trick or treating and [drop-in] on the homes of government and fossil fuel companies to demand justice for people and our environment, instead of multi-billion dollar handouts to gas, oil, and coal companies,” according to the event announcement.

Their main demand is that the Canadian government end the $1.4 billion in annual subsidies the group says goes to fossil fuel companies in Canada. The demand is an ongoing campaign for the youth-based environmental justice group. This past summer they presented a motion to the All Party Climate Change Caucus on Parliament Hill, which among other things called on the government to adhere to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2009 G20 statement that he would cut subsidies to the oil industry. According to Powershift, the total of $1.4 billion consists of “annual direct and indirect transfer of funds and liabilities or foregone government revenue.”

According to Kathryn Lennon, one of the event's spokespeople and an environmental activist from Calgary, AB, the goal of the march–and Powershift as a whole–is to challenge the political and economic structures that are either outright supporting industries that cause climate change, or at the least doing little to stop them.

“It's about the root causes and looking at the more systemic, the structural inequalities in the world that support an economic system that's not working, that has brought us to this climate crisis point,” she said in an interview towards the start of the conference. “It's important to...recognize that there's an urgency to what we're doing right now and that it comes back to political power and political engagement.”

This past summer, the Harper government found itself on the hot seat going into the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The British newspaper The Guardian revealed that Canadian negotiators blocked stronger language committing participants to cutting oil, gas and coal subsidies. The Canadian proposal was that governments “consider” the elimination of the tax breaks and other financial incentives.

At the time, Minister of the Environment Peter Kent said the government was still committed to its 2009 promise, but that the stronger language in the Rio+20 document would infringe on Canada's sovereignty. Critics said it was a delaying tactic and showed that the Conservatives lacked commitment to cutting the subsidies, and once again falling into a debate of economy versus jobs. To Lennan, this is a false debate.

“We often hear that if we look for climate change solutions it's at the cost of jobs, and I think that's simply not true,” she said. “We want just and sustainable jobs, we want green jobs, we want a future in which our economic model is not one that relies on pushing the limits of ecological systems.”

The march begins at 11:30 on Parliament Hill. People are encouraged to come in costume. More information: Follow it on twitter: #toxicmarch.

Tim McSorley is an editor with the Media Co-op.

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