Toronto People’s Assembly for Climate Justice Meets

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Meeting marks significant progress in the confidence and maturity of climate justice forces
by John Riddell

The Toronto People’s Assembly on Climate Justice held its third conference on April 23, 2011, with more than 100 participants. The event marked a step forward from the previous two sessions, held in June and November 2010, both in spirit and in concrete results.

Participants represented a wide spectrum of the more activist-oriented ecological groups in and around Toronto, as well as independent activists. There was a good balance of generations. Some trade union members were present, although an approach to trade unions did not figure in the discussions. There was little representation from the socialist left.

In the final session, workshops at the assembly presented four projects in the final session:

  • To compile an Ontario manifesto for climate justice, incorporating the principles of the Cochabamba declaration (an initiative of the Council of Canadians, Toronto Chapter).
  • To take initial steps on a local level to implement the “people’s consultation” proposal of the Cochabamba conference (an initiative of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity).
  • To support the struggle against a proposed massive new quarry in Melancthon township, north-west of Toronto.
  • To prepare a People’s Assembly fair.

The People’s Assembly functions according to principles of “radical horizontality,” which aim to provide an alternative to traditional hierarchical “talking heads” events. Plenary sessions are very limited; presentations are few and brief. The assemblies consist mainly of small-group discussions and workshops. So far, the assemblies have not taken decisions. This format favours broad participation, and everyone present has several opportunities to present their ideas. In the first two assemblies, however, the assemblies ended with little direction for future activity.

This time, the assembly’s agenda was rather different. The afternoon session included several prepared workshops, including presentations, organized by supporting groups. Some of these workshops reached consensus decisions that were presented in the final plenary session. Although these projects were not debated or voted on, there was an atmosphere of agreement that they should go forward.

The largest of the workshops featured a probing discussion of nuclear power, in which several viewpoints were presented.

The assembly also included an Indigenous water ceremony, a workshop on spirituality and the ecological movement, and workshops on organic gardening and making a cart for your bicycle. These non-conventional elements fit well into the assembly format as a whole and were generally felt to have made a constructive addition to the event.

The assembly did not unite around a common action project. It may seem paradoxical that even though everyone in the assembly agrees on the urgent need for action, at this stage it is hard for the assembly to make a transition to a unified project. It is true that its format is not conducive to taking such a course, but there is more to it than that. Few participants called for a unified action. Most of those present favoured rallying behind community-based projects already under way.

Whatever its possible limitations, the third Toronto People’s Assembly for Climate Justice, like the very different conference in Montreal a week earlier, registered significant progress in the confidence and maturity of climate justice forces, including with regard to the need for action.

John Riddell is a member of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity