Protesters stage sit-in on Trudeau's doorstep to push for emissions action
Protesters rally against tar sands expansion during the "Climate Welcome Sit-In" for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outside Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 6, 2015 8:41AM EST
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first full day on the job Thursday came complete with a protest by environmentalists outside the gates of his new Rideau Hall residence.
The Liberal government arrived in office this week promising a new era of accountability and action on climate change.
About three dozen protesters staged a midday sit-in in an effort to hold Trudeau to that promise, and they say they'll be back daily through the weekend.
"We are less than a month out from the largest global summit on climate change ever in the history of mankind taking place in Paris," said protest organizer Clayton Thomas-Muller of the group 350.org.
"Trudeau has already made it clear that he plans to go to Paris without any emissions reductions -- essentially going to Paris with (Stephen) Harper's climate action strategy, which is the absence of one."
The COP21 United Nations climate conference is scheduled from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in the French capital, where the international community hopes to hammer out a binding, post-2020 agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.
Trudeau made a point of highlighting his new government's more co-operative international stance on climate policy after he was sworn in Wednesday, and he's invited all the provincial premiers as well as non-governmental organizations to Paris. But he's refrained from setting targets for reducing greenhouse gases until he can put a plan together with the provinces.
Trudeau also named Stephane Dion as his foreign affairs minister and put the former Liberal environment minister and party leader in charge of a cabinet committee on climate change and energy.
"Let me tell you that from around the world the messages we receive are very, very positive," Dion said Thursday on Parliament Hill when asked about the Paris conference.
The protesters at Rideau Hall said they are buoyed by the change of tone, but wary of Liberal climate promises.
"I think it's so tragic that the writing's on the wall but governments haven't done anything," said Ria Heynen of Ottawa as she sat with 38 others in front of the Rideau Hall gates.
"And I'm sorry to say the Liberal government before Harper could have done much more and they didn't. This is why I'm here now -- to make sure that his Liberal government will be different. But I do feel we have to push them."
Climate change advocates have a common bottom line that could confound the Liberals' best intentions: Alberta's oilsands cannot expand from their current output, and that means no new pipelines.
Thomas-Muller said "there is absolutely no way" Canada can build even a single new pipeline to move Alberta bitumen and still remain a responsible international player on climate action.
Trudeau has expressed support for Calgary-based TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline to the United States, although its fate now appears to hinge on an unsupportive White House.
On Thursday, TransCanada announced that another of its pipeline proposals, the Energy East pipeline from Alberta and Saskatchewan to New Brunswick, won't attempt to put a port on the St. Lawrence River anywhere in Quebec. That removes one of the environmental flashpoints of the project and suggests TransCanada is throwing overboard baggage that might weigh down Energy East's approval.
Climate change activists say they're watching the Liberals intently on pipeline policy.
"We know they also have very open doors to companies like TransCanada," said Thomas-Muller, citing the Liberal ties of TransCanada lobbyist Phil Fontaine and consultant Dan Gagnier.
"There's a lot of open doorways right now to the Liberal government and we aim to encourage them to shut some of them in the interests of democracy."