Convergence without consensus at the March for Earth Day
As soon as it leaves Jeanne-Mance Park, it is under the playful rhythms of the drums and the boldness of the slogans – “three steps forward, one step back!” symbolizing the ecological timidity of governments – that marched the March for Earth Day in Montreal.
Supported by “more than 150 organizations” and bringing together almost as many on the spot, the March organized by the Coalition of April 22 underlined the urgency of making an ecological transition, but none of the participating groups seems to agree on the form that the latter must take.
The heterogeneous convergence bringing together citizens, political parties, militant groups and unions is divided above all on the importance given to the role of governments in the ecological transition and on the validity of sustainable development .
“I think the transition is more about collective and individual actions on the fringes of the system and politics,” said an organizer of the March who preferred to remain anonymous. “The system will not change from the inside,” adds his colleague. Out of cynicism or out of radicalism, a representative of the Industrial Workers' Union who took part in the march also admits that he “does not believe in everything” in the ability of a government to carry out the ecological transition. This perspective is shared by several other citizens who were there. The “very structure of the public institution, the “corruption” and the “power of the lobbies” which do not have the environment at heart are among the reasons which make them believe that the transition will not be made with the system.
Using the system rather than changing it
However, there are also many political parties there, such as Climat Québec, Québec solidaire (QS), the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Canada and Projet Montréal, the only party in power who joined the other walkers. The latter claim, on the contrary, that the solution lies with the political decision-makers and the public institutions in place.
For Martine Ouellete, the head of Climat Québec who was also Minister of Natural Resources between 2012 and 2014, the transition “will go through the citizens”, but “ultimately it will go through politics because that's where decisions”.
“We don't all need to use the same mechanisms,” says Québec solidaire co-spokesperson, Manon Massé, admitting the validity of all environmental movements, which whether they are in the National Assembly or elsewhere.
Équiterre, the Network of Women in the Environment and the Mouvement d’popular education et d’communautaire du Québec also believe that the transition must have its source in the population, but that ultimately the political system must be used to advance the cause. However, on the issue of sustainable development, politicians and these organizations are losing their apparent consensus.
Sustainable development or economic decline?
“Next stop: degrowth”, can we read on the sign of a committed citizen. The word was also on the lips of several other protesters. In opposition to the principle of economic development, even to sustainable development, degrowth is an idea which suggests that to have a chance of succeeding in the ecological transition, we must reduce our economy rather than continuing to aim to increase our production and our wealth, even if it is done in a supposedly responsible way. “Sustainable development is not sustainable”, says the citizen with the sign. A perspective shared by the MPACQ, the SITT, the Network of Women in the Environment and many other citizens.
In contrast, even though the politicians who marched recognize the degrowth approach, none could help but maintain an interest in some form of development. Even the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Canada. “There are parts of the economy that need to decrease, but if we're talking about organic food production, it needs to grow,” says Manon Massé, for example. Not wanting to choose one approach over another, “all that”, was content to say Martine Ouellet. For his party, Climat Québec, the idea is rather that all decisions involving development or not “must go through the prism of the climate”.
For Marie-Andrée Mauger, responsible for the environment at executive committee of the city of Montreal, it is “another form of development” that we must aim for, namely “regenerative development”. It's about the idea of developing the economy, but respecting the ecological limit so as not to mine more resources than can be regenerated.
Not wanting to put a name to their approach, “the important thing is to rethink a lot of the ways in which we usually operate”, shares a representative of the Équiterre organization. A somewhat symbolic perspective of the current state of the environmental movement, which agrees on the importance of acting, but often not on the path to take.