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Newfoundland and Labrador is rising up for a new economy

By: Maude Barlow and Avi Lewis | October 13, 2016

The province “has become an epicentre of mobilization to demand an economy that prioritizes people and the planet over corporate profit.”

Maude Barlow
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A grassroots movement was born following the N.L. Liberal Government's 2016 austerity budget. Addressing the various crises in Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond will require "retiring the toxic logic of austerity and re-building our diminished public sphere," write Maude Barlow and Avi Lewis. Photo by Matt Barter.

We live in an era when pop-up political movements are taking the world by storm, demanding a new economy and a better future.

From the massive Indignado protests across Europe, to Occupy Wall Street, to Idle No More, to the Standing Rock protest camp against the Dakota Access Pipeline, to right here in Newfoundland and Labrador with NL Rising, these movements for good jobs, high-quality public services, Indigenous rights, and climate justice are inherently connected.

Newfoundland and Labrador has become an epicentre of mobilization to demand an economy that prioritizes people and the planet over corporate profit. From October 14-16, Groundswell 2016 will bring participants together in St. John’s from coast to coast to coast to build on that momentum to learn, refocus, remobilize, and get back into the streets.

Let’s not fall for false solutions

The same weekend Groundswell 2016 is taking place, provincial energy corporation Nalcor intends to begin flooding traditional Innu territory in Labrador as part of the construction process for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam. We shouldn’t fall for the myth that Muskrat Falls is a climate solution. It’s not.

Despite the shiny spin put on the megaproject, the fact is it would be a huge mistake for Newfoundland and Labrador. Major dams often harm Indigenous peoples and cause mercury poisoning. A recent scientific study found that dams and reservoirs are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (because they emit more methane than previously thought), which means they’re not a realistic solution to the climate crisis either.

And despite platitudes about reconciliation and federal adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Muskrat Falls is the latest example of how those rights are routinely disrespected – especially the right of Indigenous peoples to free, prior, informed consent. Innu Elder Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue, who is scheduled to speak at Groundswell 2016, opposes the dam because it will flood and destroy Innu ancestral lands. The dam would flood 41 square kilometres of the nutshimit that Penashue seeks to preserve, and establish a 100 square kilometre reservoir.

We also shouldn’t fall for the myth that we need to sacrifice Indigenous rights and the environment to ensure good, long-term jobs. It’s a false choice, when there are so many options, including solar and wind, for a just transition to a climate-friendly economy that provides good, green jobs while respecting Indigenous rights and the climate.

We need jobs strategies that care for the environment and which look after people by expanding rather than cutting social infrastructure. We need to learn the lessons about the importance of water protection and not repeat projects like Sandy Pond (where the lake was destroyed by Vale for a tailings pond) and Abitibi-Bowater’s corporate rights superceding local decisions of front line and Indigenous communities.

Megaprojects like Muskrat Falls are often spun as job engines, but they are really about driving up corporate profits at the expense of people and the planet.

Let’s leap beyond the interconnected crises

We need to change the way we look at the crises we’re facing. Far too often we look at these emergencies separately. But the fact is the challenges confronting us on jobs, public services, inequality, climate change and dwindling freshwater are really one crisis with many faces. That’s why we have to tackle them together.

The Leap Manifesto is an urgent response to these crises – connecting the dots among them, and calling for “a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another.”

We need to change the way we look at the crises we’re facing.

First and foremost, that means an economy that puts good jobs ahead of corporate profits by reinvesting in existing low-carbon sectors: health care, education, public services, taking care of children and seniors. Not coincidentally, this would mean retiring the toxic logic of austerity and re-building our diminished public sphere. Rather than megaprojects that deepen the divide between the one per cent and the rest of us, the Leap proposes strengthening our connective tissue as a society – expanding the services on which we all depend, and strengthening the bonds that hold us together in community.

The Council of Canadians supports the Leap’s call for a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050. Megaprojects like Muskrat Falls, as well as the Energy East pipeline are obstacles that would prevent Canada from meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius target the Trudeau government agreed to at the Paris climate talks in Dec. 2015, which Canada recently ratified.

Another Newfoundland and Labrador is 100 per cent possible and we can make it a reality by working for a more democratic economy that benefits everyone.

This weekend Newfoundland and Labrador will rise up in the streets again to demand a new economy and a halt to flooding Indigenous lands.

Fuelled by people power, we can build an economy for the 21st century. And far from being a future of sacrifice and hardship, ours is a plan to create abundance by taking care of the earth and each other.

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and author of the new bestseller ‘Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis’. Avi Lewis is a Social and political commentator, an award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker and television journalist and a contributor to the writing of the ‘Leap Manifesto’.

Both Barlow and Lewis will be speaking in St. John’s at the upcoming Council of Canadians conference, ‘Groundswell 2016: Toward a Healthy Economy for People and the Planet’, from Oct. 14-16.

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