Photo by Robert van Waarden 

During four days in early November, I was one of over 200 people collectively sitting in outside Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex to demand Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commit to freezing tar sands expansion, and transition to a clean energy economy.  Throughout the recent federal election, I was encouraged by Trudeau’s framing on climate. But after almost 10 years under Harper, I’ve come to understand that the fight for climate justice is not over just because a new government is in power. If the new majority Liberal government is serious about taking real action on climate change, then this as an incredible opportunity to make it clear what that action needs to look like.

Throughout the recent federal election, I was encouraged by Trudeau’s framing on climate. But after almost 10 years under Harper, I’ve come to understand that the fight for climate justice is not over just because a new government is in power.

Since his November 4th swearing in, Prime Minister Trudeau expressed his disappointment at the recent US government decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. If Trudeau’s Keystone XL comments weren’t disappointing enough, they were followed by foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion, affirming the Liberal government’s support for the proposed Energy East pipeline project. Finally, the phrase “sustainable development of the tar sands” — a real life oxymoron — has already been employed by key ministers of Trudeau’s cabinet. These are the symbols of “real change” that youth are being offered by Prime Minister Trudeau’s new government when it comes to the environment. These symbols speak louder to me than any one of Trudeau’s campaign rally speeches. They confirm for me, exactly why all people, especially young people, need to demand the better future we deserve, and be willing to take bold action to get it. Now is not the time to sit back and watch, but to act to hold this new government accountable.

If Prime Minister Trudeau’s first climate-related actions are not concerning enough, instead of crafting new climate reduction targets ahead of the UN summit on Climate Change (COP21), the Liberal government seems to be content bringing Stephen Harper’s climate plans to the international stage, further entrenching the current Canadian identity as a climate laggard.

As someone who is leading a delegation of youth to the upcoming Paris UN climate negotiations, I am extremely concerned that just weeks before appearing at the UN climate summit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is declaring support for new pipelines and yet has no plan to bring before the international community at COP21.

Following our actions at the Climate Welcome, Catherine McKenna, the Liberal government’s new environment and climate change minister, stated that the Liberal’s climate-change targets will be tougher than the Conservative government’s. Unfortunately, “we’ll be better than Harper” doesn’t set the bar very high, and still lacks tangible commitments that send the message that Prime Minister Trudeau’s government is willing to take the bold action that is necessary.

Prime Minister Trudeau elected not to meet with us as we sat in outside his residence for four days. For a Prime Minister who has promised to be open and accountable to the electorate, who has vowed to improve Nation-to-Nation relations with Indigenous Peoples, and who has named himself “Minister of Youth,” his refusal to answer these demands is worrisome at best. This week alone has shown that Prime Minister Trudeau attempted to effectively silence the message that youth are trying to send to him, and shown himself closed and contrary to the principles of climate justice and the need for climate action.

We know that to be in line with the science and stay within a safe limit of climate warming, 85 percent of the tar sands must be kept in the ground. That is why I stepped up this past week to demand that Prime Minister Trudeau’s ‘real change’ includes a freeze on tar sands expansion and an immediate justice-based transition to a clean energy economy. At COP21 and after, I will stand and demand climate justice, and I call on other Canadian youth to do the same. It is time to send a message that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to stop toeing the line and choose a side between Big Oil and the people of this country once and for all. 

Kiki Wood is the director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC).

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