David Suzuki, Jane Fonda, Naomi Klein and Joel Plaskett marched loudly through downtown Toronto on Sunday, along with thousands of others: an eclectic coalition of unionists, environmentalists, anti-poverty groups, faith organizations, health care workers, and leaders from frontline First Nations communities.
The priorities on the signs they carried might have seemed jumbled and conflicting. But at the March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate, these groups formed a powerful alliance with a single goal in mind: “a justice-based transition to a clean-energy economy in Canada.”
The march was held just ahead of the Climate Summit of the Americas, to be hosted by Toronto this Tuesday through Thursday.
The diverse assembly of protesters representing groups as diverse as No One is Illegal Toronto, Greenpeace Canada, and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, were united on the interconnectedness of their causes, from divesting from fossil fuel, to supporting people displaced by climate change, to raising awareness of the impact of climate change on public health.
“It’s becoming clear that climate change and inequality are the twin overriding issues of our age, and their roots come from the same places — they’re interrelated,” said Bill McKibben, founder of organizing group 350.org and author of The End of Nature¸ widely recognized as the first popular book on climate change.
Protesters, some 10,000 according to one estimate, gathered around 1 p.m. at Queen’s Park for an opening ceremony and marched down Dundas St., toward Allen Gardens, where the event ended shortly before 4 p.m. with speeches, dancing and live music.
“We’ve had a government that has pitted jobs and social service against climate for years now,” Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein told the Star as the crowd prepared to start marching.
“Our economy is not in great shape, people are losing jobs in the extractive industry and in the tar sands, and we have a terrible record on climate,” she said. “We’re losing on all fronts.”
Klein has acknowledged that she had entered an “unlikely alliance” when she recently spoke at the Vatican in support of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, in which he criticized world leaders for their inaction on climate change.
“If we took climate change seriously and acted with tremendous urgency — because this is an incredibly urgent threat — we would create inevitably many, many times more jobs than in the current model,” says Klein. “If we want those jobs to pay a living wage, to be unionized jobs, then we have to fight for that.”
Klein has been at the forefront of the climate change movement and received wide acclaim for her 2014 bestseller This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change — the book that actress Jane Fonda earlier told the Star inspired her to take up the cause.
Fonda addressed reporters before the start of the march with her arm around Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Greenpeace Canada campaigner and member of the tar sands-affected community of the Lubicon Cree.
“This is the kind of coalition that will make the difference,” said Fonda to a throng of fans and journalists. “They are saying we don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy — that is a false choice.”
“In fact, renewable energy, doing away with a fossil-fuel based economy, will create more jobs, more democracy, and more justice,” she said.
Known as a dogged activist, Fonda also appeared at a June rally against oil sands development in Vancouver, saying she was willing to get arrested if it brought attention to the issue.
The Climate Summit of the Americas will bring together policymakers from across the Western hemisphere as the 2015 Pan American Economic Summit also kicks off in Toronto on Tuesday, ahead of the Pan Am Games.
The timing of the two events is meant to demonstrate the “important link between climate action and a strong, prosperous low-carbon economy,” said a news release from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Environmental activist and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, and Premier Kathleen Wynne are listed as confirmed speakers at the climate summit.
With files from Nancy White and Christopher Reynolds