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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

One issue is many

So Canadians will be heading to the polls on my birthday. Not the birthday gift I wanted from our Prime Minister, but I guess it’s the only one I’m going to get. We had a federal election only 2 years ago. Justin Trudeau claims it’s important to give us all a voice in who will be steering the country out of this pandemic (which is still happening). I am all for participating in the democratic process, but the cynic in me thinks you really just hope you’re going to get a majority this time.

Anyway, I used to talk a lot more about politics on my blog (I used to blog a lot more in general). Nowadays I mostly yell on Twitter; last week I explained that I am a one-issue voter in this election. Nevertheless, I feel like it’s necessary that I register my opinion here, in a less ephemeral place than Twitter. I want to be able to look back in five years and know where I stood at the time.

As I said in that tweet, the one issue on my mind for this election is climate change. I popped an allergy pill almost every day this summer, avoided sitting on my deck for days at a time, and lamented how dry July was—all because of the forest fires raging west and north of Thunder Bay. The intensity of these fires is clearly linked to climate change. Even if the evidence were not right before my eyes, I trust the science that says climate change is worsening and the conclusion that we must kick our fossil fuel habit now, not later.

I deeply resent the fact that the Liberal government spent billions buying the Trans Mountain pipeline. I am infuriated by their assertion that they need the revenue from the pipeline to fund the fight against climate change. This is hypocritical doublespeak that attempts to position the government as doing the right thing (fighting climate change) while also pandering to industry and those concerned about potential job losses. The common refrain is that it will “take time” to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We are always told that renewables aren’t there yet. Give it 5, maybe 10 more years.

Does this refrain sound familiar? It sounds to me like the response that moderates who want to call themselves progressive deliver to those demanding social justice. This incitement to incrementalism is harmful and ultimately in bad faith. Maybe it would have worked for climate change a decade ago, but it’s too late. The scientific consensus is clear: radical change is required to stave off more warming than we have already locked in.

My cynicism expands further when reading these apparent talking points distributed to Liberal Party canvassers to respond to tough questions about the government’s action (or inaction) on climate change. I am not surprised, however, because this is entirely consistent with who Justin Trudeau has shown himself to be.

Earlier this year, I read Can You Hear Me Now?, the superb memoir from Celina Caesar-Chavannes that discusses (among other things) her time as a Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister. My friend Rebecca and I were then lucky enough to score Celina as our first guest on our podcast, We Just Like to Talk. You can listen to that entire episode here, or in your favourite podcast player:

Celina isn’t the only woman of colour who has had issues with the Prime Minister or with Parliament in general—obviously Jody Wilson-Raybould’s very public resignation is one instance, and more recently NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq gave a moving speech in the House calling out the government and political parties in general for their hypocritical promises to do better when, in fact, nothing has been changing.

I listen to the scientists on climate change, and in the same way, I listen to racialized women on the subject of oppression. To dismiss their voices, downplay their concerns, say that they don’t understand or don’t appreciate the nuance of the situation—such actions are, in fact, racist and sexist. We can disagree on the specific solutions, but we cannot dispute that Canada’s political landscape is toxic, racist, and misogynistic. Our Prime Minister, who spent so much of his early tenure attempting to establish himself as the “hip” and feminist PM, is a huge part of that problem.

So we have a government that is failing to deliver on climate change and contributes to a toxic and oppressive political climate on top of that. Did I forget anything? Oh yes—Indigenous peoples.

This year has seen a tragic reckoning with the full scope of the genocide of residential schools. I remember reading the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’s report when it came out, how they softened that term with the qualifier “cultural” because that was the best their lawyers could recommend. As First Nations launch investigations uncovering more unmarked graves across the country, it behoves those of us who are settlers to acknowledge that Canada in its entirety, from our education systems to our governance structures, is founded on colonialism. Any true achievement of “reconciliation,” that great political buzzword, must involve radical (there’s that word again) and fundamental change. Yet our leaders don’t have the appetite for that, because it is electorally unpopular.

The Liberal party, and others, love to repeat the phrase “nation-to-nation relationship” when talking about Indigenous peoples. This belies the ongoing colonialism in our country, including the terrorizing of land defenders by the RCMP and private security. This is where we come full circle.

My one issue in this election is climate change. But that one issue is actually many issues. My vote for radical change on climate change acknowledges that this must include radical change in other areas. We must answer the call of “land back” in a meaningful and tangible way. First, Indigenous peoples managed this land sustainably for thousands of years before European contact. (But in acknowledging this, let’s also remember we shouldn’t put Indigenous peoples in the position of “saving” us.) Second, it’s just the right thing to do. Reconciliation cannot happen without decolonization, and decolonization means giving the land back. Here is a good FAQ if you are a little fuzzy on what “land back” actually means and whether that means we white people get kicked out back to Europe (spoiler: it does not). Land back is really the ultimate signifier that Canada actually respects the sovereignty of the nations it claims to have a nation-to-nation relationship with.

Beyond that, “land back” is a reminder of the importance of a relationship with the land. This is what Indigenous peoples had that colonizers lacked and then disrupted. Earlier this week, I read this wonderful article in Science Magazine about how 3 distinct populations of grizzly bears in B.C. correlated with Indigenous language families in the same region. The conclusion is that humans and animals alike sought out the same resources and followed similar patterns in terms of movement and settlement. As the article makes clear, the response of First Nations people who were asked about this correlation can easily be summarized as, “Uh, yeah, no doi.” Science has a long way to go in undoing a bias that favours Western ideas about what counts as scientific knowledge. If we are to fight climate change, we need to fundamentally shift our worldview and mindset about what it means to defend our land and protect our water.

So far, the Liberal government has not convinced me it is taking serious action on climate change or on Land Back. Are the other political parties doing any better? My sympathies have, for a long time, been with the NDP. I would love to see them form the next government. That being said, I’m not going to pretend that the NDP are perfectly-aligned with my views or that they would implement as radical changes as I want to see. I am skeptical of all our political parties and politicians—but I still believe that one of the most important levers of change we have available to us as individuals is to put pressure on those politicians by participating fully in democracy. That includes voting, but it’s more than that. The only way we will see results is if we keep the pressure on after Election Day, so that regardless of which leader moves into 24 Sussex Drive, they know we are watching.

Don’t get me wrong: I still care about other issues. As I said above, it’s all connected. My fight for justice is a fight to defund and abolish police and carceral system, for universal pharmacare and indeed true universal healthcare, and so on. I want trans-inclusivity and am frankly terrified of what it would mean for my safety as a trans person if O’Toole and the Conservatives come to power. All of these things matter to me, shape me, and inform the political decisions I make, including on Election Day.

But at the end of the day, we need leaders who will take concrete and significant actions against the clear and present existential threat of our generation. I don’t want your excuses, your stump speeches, your empty promises of gender parity. I want you to do something, and I need you to do it now.

Cover image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.