Saturday, February 15, 2020

It's Not Just a Bunch of Cranky Indians

A good many Canadians imagine the Wet'suwet'en/Coastal Gaslink protests are a dispute between some hereditary First Nations chiefs and a pipeline company. It is that, to be sure, but there are many layers to this unrest.

On the Wet'suwet'en side there's a loose alliance that brings together the First Nations doing the heavy lifting but supported by two other groups, young people and environmentalists. They, in turn, are getting moral support from groups such as the Council of Canadians and from progressive media outlets such as The Tyee, and the National Observer.

On the other side are the fossil energy giants (gas and oil) and governments, federal and provincial, Conservative, Liberal and NDP.

The dispute also brings into play the nature and history unique to the province and people of British Columbia. This part may be hard for some from other provinces to understand.
British Columbia's political culture has long involved strikes and protests and civil disobedience, often meant to inconvenience, usually centred around rights and race and resources.

"These have happened before and they will continue to happen," said Rod Mickleburgh, a longtime B.C. journalist who has written books on the labour movement.
A two-faced NDP government adds to the problem.
On the partisan politics side, it's another story of the NDP campaigning on progressive issues and then disappointing some of their most fervent followers.

"Once the NDP got elected for the first time in B.C [in 1972] the labour movement thought ... they were going to get everything they wanted. Well they didn't. And they were not happy about it. These are the tensions that make it just a little bit harder for them to govern."
Federal-provincial colonialism bubbles to the surface.
"B.C. as a province, for its entire history, built on its economy and its growth on the resource sector. And that always comes as a point of conflict when it comes to the issue of title around Indigenous rights," said Khelsilem, an elected Squamish Nation councillor. 
"It remains an unresolved issue and I think that that speaks to the heart of this issue."
The political calculus might not be the same for this government though, because we're in an age where young people are increasingly seeking different political options.

"There is a palpable sense of disappointment, or frankly heartbreak, by a lot of activists ... and indigenous people who in good faith hoped this government would be a little bit different," said Khelsilem, who has warned the government could lose support they've traditionally had in First Nations communities.

"They're putting a lot at risk in terms of the future."
Fractures are emerging - First Nations, young Canadians, environmentalists and progressives who are simply tired of past injustices unresolved, promises broken and a future betrayed.  It's the informal coming together of these parties based on shared or overlapping interests and concerns that may suggest the path we're on into the future.
However, it's different, argues Ben Isitt — a Victoria councillor who participated in this week's blockade of the legislature — because it's a new type of coalition, less centred around traditional labour and more focused on younger environmentalists and Indigenous leaders. 
"We're seeing those two movements come together ... giving more strength to this movement than some other ones we've seen in recent years," he said. 
Isitt, who wrote his PhD dissertation on the history of protests in B.C., also believes these demonstrators are willing to push the envelope.

"I was surprised to see, in terms of the depth of support ... the openness to militant tactics, or to more non-violent civil disobedience that the young people demonstrated."
At the beginning of this century some prominent historians wrote of the 21st century as a "century of revolution" that would see the world break out in turmoil, the old order displaced. Unfortunately, liberals, who ought to have availed themselves of the chance to lead, chose instead to stick with the easy (i.e. lazy) option - neoliberalism.  It was, in the view of many, the betrayal of progressivism by liberals that allowed rightwing populism to surface and spread.

It infuriated me, during Harper's reign, to watch as he shifted Canada's political centre well to the right. That was bad enough but then the Liberals and the NDP followed in Harper's wake. The Liberals became Conservative-Lite, the NDP opted to become Latter-Day Liberals as Layton tried to position them to form government. When Harper was ousted I fervently hoped that the new Liberal government would even Canada's political keel but, instead, it was content with the country listing to starboard.

With Canada in the throes of a looming climate crisis, what is there for young people in the main political parties? What does the petro-state of Canada have in store for them? They can read. They know that we have less than a decade to halve our greenhouse gas emissions. They're not interested in empty promises about what we'll do by 2050. Their necks are on the block now. Deeds not words. Today those deeds take the form of pipelines and pit mines, tailing ponds and orphan wells, massive wildfires, droughts and floods.

The Liberals, the Conservatives and, yes, the New Democrats are writing the future for today's young people and the generations to follow and they know it's being written indelibly to suit the boomers, the millennials, the Gen-Xers,  at their expense. Of course they resort to "militant tactics." What choice do they have?


Sub-Boreal said...

Source for the chunks of quoted text?

The Disaffected Lib said...