Canadian Labour Congress Discusses Climate Change

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Good discussion, followed by a disappointing policy paper and resolution

By Roger Annis

Roger Annis, co-editor of Socialist Voice, is a delegate to the Canadian Labour Congress convention being held in Toronto this week. He has been posting daily reports on the convention on his blog.

(May 28, 2008) The fourth day of the CLC convention began with two sessions on climate change. CBC Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi hosted a one-hour panel presentation of three guests — Clayton-Thomas Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation, and Jeca Glor-Bell, president of the Sierra Club of Canada.

Thanks to two reading sources — my subscription to the weekly magazine New Scientist and the blog site Climate and Capitalism, itself linked to the Ecosocialist International Network — I consider myself informed on climate issues. I recently wrote an article on the absurd claim of the British Columbia government and its apologists to be leading the charge on reversing climate change. (You can find that article at:

I found the panel discussion was novel and informative. The panelists gave informed opinion on matters such as carbon taxes and emission-trading regimes that allow polluters to purchase the right to continue their destructive practices. Dale Marshall said he supports carbon taxes; Thomas-Muller and Glor-Bell said that taxation of fossil fuels can only be a useful tool if tax revenues are directed to assist society, especially its poorest members, to adjust to change, eg by significantly expanding affordable public transit.

Thomas-Muller explained that environmental issues are issues of fundamental human rights, including Indigenous peoples’ rights and sovereignty. He called for building a popular movement to oppose climate destruction and forge an alternative path for society.

A good discussion was held on the Alberta Tar Sands. Thomas-Muller said Canadians are being “held hostage” by current and future Tar Sands projects in northern Alberta. Workers in the zone are being poisoned, “ethnocide” is being perpetrated against the Indigenous population, the rapid rise in price of Canada’s currency is causing significant losses in manufacturing employment, and the unions face a difficult challenge in defending the rights of tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers being brought to Canada to work in the Tar Sands or work the jobs the Tar Sands workers leave behind as they move north.

A delegate asked if “clean coal” exploitation or nuclear power offer an alternative to oil. “No such thing” as clean coal, replied Thomas-Muller. It’s a dirty fuel, and the suggested “carbon capture and storage” technology is a ruse — the technology simply does not exist. As for nuclear power, he explained there is no way of safely disposing of nuclear waste. Indigenous territories are more often than not the dumping ground of such waste.

It was a good exchange, but two limitations were evident. One, the only rational response to the Tar Sands debacle is to shut down tar sands exploitation as rapidly as possible. And, two, the political dimension of the climate crisis was not sufficiently described. The environmental challenge is so vast, and the resistance to change is so deeply embedded in the current economic order, that it is illusory to posit that climate calamity can be avoided by tinkering around the edges of the capitalist order.

Only a government radically committed to social justice can undertake the vast reorganization of society required to avert climate calamity. It’s no accident that only one country in the world today — Cuba — is anywhere close to achieving harmony with the biosphere. It is thanks to Cuba’s nationalized and planned economy that this has been achieved.

Disappointing policy paper and resolutions on climate change

Following the panel, a policy paper was presented for discussion and vote. It is titled, “Climate Change and Green Jobs: Labour’s Challenges and Opportunities.” I voted against it. Although it describes the Tar Sands as “the single most destructive development project anywhere on Earth”, the paper proposes, “The Canadian Labour Congress will actively push for a drastic and dramatic slowdown on any further expansion in the tar sands.”

The paper proposes a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. But this will be impossible to achieve while Tar Sands projects continue; necessarily including natural gas expansion in British Columbia and northern Canada, new, massive “shale gas” projects in northeastern British Columbia proceed as planned; and with coal mining and burning expansion underway in several areas of Canada.

The paper proposes a pollution trading regime, albeit an arguably improved version of the failed trading regime already in place. More generally, the paper does not provide a description of the enormity of the change required in society. Its proposed solutions are, in my view, band-aid. It was adopted nearly unanimously

A five-point resolution on the Tar Sands was then proposed, and overwhelmingly adopted. It proposes:

  • “Regulate” the Tar Sands to “protect the environment”
  • “Minimize” the impact of Tar Sands on aboriginal communities
  • Limit unrefined raw oil exports in favour of refining in Canada
  • Moratorium on “future” Tar Sands projects
  • Support to Indigenous peoples struggling against Tar Sands developments.

No delegates spoke in opposition to the resolution.

1 Comment

  • I agree with Thomas-Muller and the author of this article – these half-measures and compromises are counter-productive and need to be voted against. Liberal reformism is a slippery slope towards endorsing the evils of capitalism. Only a total shut-down of the tar sands is in order. Aboriginal peoples are leading the way – KI and AAFN examples in Ontario show us that popular movements can put a halt to development. That’s what’s needed. Not a flimsy compromise position suggesting “minimizing” and “regulating” the destruction of life on Earth. Perhaps they think we should also have “regulated” the Holocaust?