David Suzuki: Montreal protesters shine spotlight on government's skewed priorities

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      When I heard about the student protests in Montreal, I swallowed the line that Quebec’s pampered youth pay lower fees than those in other parts of Canada but aren’t aware that education costs money. And then I went to Quebec. There, I heard a different story.

      After weeks of demonstrations, clearly something more profound is going on. The protesters are forcing us to confront a crucial question: What is government for? Governing is about priorities. Students can’t help but notice they aren’t high on the list.

      Governments all across Canada have no qualms about investing vast amounts of money to exploit “natural resources”, yet they all but ignore the most precious, our children. Young people will take charge long after current leaders are gone, and they’ll also be stuck with the ecological, social, and economic costs of the decisions we make today.

      The increasing challenge of getting a postsecondary education isn’t the only issue motivating people to take to the streets of Montreal. On April 22, Earth Day, 300,000 went outside to celebrate nature. On May 22, tens of thousands spontaneously mobilized to oppose the draconian measures enacted to stop the student protests.

      The Montreal protesters are drawing attention to a growing trend: governments often skew decisions in favour of short-term priorities, often for industrial interests. To promote those priorities, government, industry, and their supporters try to stifle discussion around the real issues and demonize those who press for change or question the status quo. So, because Al Gore lives in a big house (even though he’s worked at being “carbon-neutral”), he’s labelled a hypocrite, leading anti-environmentalists to make the illogical leap that we should therefore ignore or deny the science of climate change.

      This advancement of logical fallacy reached new lows with a blunder by the Heartland Institute, a U.S. climate change denying organization. The Institute launched a billboard campaign implying that because the Unabomber, Fidel Castro, and Charles Manson believe in climate change, those who agree with the scientific evidence for global warming must also be tyrants, madmen, and murderers. One could as easily, and as wrongly, conclude the opposite on the basis that Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway on July 22, is a climate change denier who referenced Heartland Institute “experts” in his manifesto!

      Heartland aborted its campaign because of massive public outrage and because funders and supporters tried to distance themselves from the organization. But the episode was another demonstration of attempts to deflect rational discussion of important issues such as global warming. And, if even tyrants, madmen, and murderers get it, why don’t our politicians?

      The Occupy movement also questions priorities, especially those regarding the pro-corporate agendas of many governments. Corporations are not people but they have similar rights and generate vast amounts of money to invest in budding politicians and lobby groups that help sidetrack important discussions.

      This sidetracking tactic also pops up with the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, especially when it comes to First Nations’ concerns. Many coastal and northern communities are desperate for jobs and economic development. Enbridge is offering incentives, including employment, yet coastal First Nations realize that some things are more important than money. Why aren’t we all getting that?

      We’re constantly bombarded with the message that jobs and economic growth are government’s highest priority, but the coastal First Nations, Occupy protesters, and Montreal students, among others, tell us the economy and growth are not the end but the means to a better society. A society that values its young people balances industrial and economic development in ways that don’t compromise their future, and makes higher education accessible to all.

      Many of us have watched with interest the remarkable “Arab Spring” movement. Although protests and demonstrations here may be about “first world” problems as opposed to the more serious struggle for basic democratic rights in the Middle East, they remind us that we can’t be complacent.

      As Canada’s government axes programs and organizations that inform us about the environment and climate change, guts environmental protection measures, and shovels money to promote fossil fuel interests while wilfully ignoring urgent calls from scientists, students, First Nations, and tens of thousands of citizens, it’s up to all of us to listen and join the conversation.

      Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



      Kim Collins

      May 29, 2012 at 4:36pm

      "... coastal First Nations realize that some things are more important than money. Why aren’t we all getting that?"

      Al Bore

      May 29, 2012 at 5:36pm

      The thousands of scientists are unanimous in agreement, (all in their own unique and different ways), only in that climate change is real, and so they can’t possibly have any agreement on what the level of the effects will be, negligible to death of the planet.
      Climate science has done to science what abusive priests did for the church.


      May 29, 2012 at 9:22pm

      And yet this is the government that the majority of Canadians want. And frankly, the opposition is far too quiet. The truth is, David's audience has no elected representative right now, because frankly I'd expect to see volume cranked up to 11 with what I'm seeing from this government. The wholesaling of Canadian environmental security and integrity, and a shifty nature that smells like thieves hiding from bright light because they're scared of what it will reveal. It's no wonder the events we are seeing in Quebec, but frankly the rest of Canada is failing miserably at trying to stand up to what is going on, we're great at talking on the Internet, and horrible at banging pots in the street.

      Robert Sharp

      May 30, 2012 at 12:19am

      Graham you spout the media's great lie , I keep hearing a majority elected harper. Crap a minority elected this denier of parliamentary form and fairness. He abuses the court decisions when he loses and looks like he is ready to cry when someone calls him on his abuses.

      Dennis Burden

      May 30, 2012 at 4:35am

      Thanks people for making a stand...perhaps there is hope for our Canada yet...i Live in Labrador and the greed is at the door here to...they wanna rip our little piece of beauty to shreds and feed to the wolves....check out the Muskrat falls project.....is there anyway i can get this msg to Mr David Suzuki....please sir ..we need help!!

      Adair Henderson

      May 30, 2012 at 5:40am

      Why do we even need a "government" we elected "people" to help us run our country.They do not care about what the people want,only what they want.The people have no say on where our tax dollars are being spent or on what.The elected officials pay zero for taxes yet they get to spend our money.There are far too many people in Canada who not afford the basic necessities of life it is time for us to take our country back.

      Gerald McEachern

      May 30, 2012 at 6:36am

      I would add an important sidebar to David's piece: that it isn't government alone that's the problem, it's the entire corporatization of the public space. Here's a link to my blog post on this (a piece that my Huffington Post editors don't want to run, interestingly)...


      Sarah M

      May 30, 2012 at 7:36am

      As an Albertan, I want to saw we have a plague of Conservatives out here. I don't know anyone who actually WANTED to vote for Harper and his bullies but we were stuck between 2 Con Parties. Wildrose was MUCH more scary then Harper. So we went with the devil we know vs the devil we don't. Libs and NDP aren't strong enough to make a difference.
      I'll be out tonight banging my pots in my support for the East coast. We aren't all cons out here.

      As for Harper, I'm pretty sure he and the entire party have been bought by the bankers in the states. One world Globalization for all. Fight it!

      @Gerald McEachern

      May 30, 2012 at 10:34am

      For governments to act explicitly in concert with corporations it requires more than bullying. It requires the voice of community leaders lending their support. Once our community leaders have been bought - the last mainstream voices die and the only thing left is our bodies in the streets.


      May 30, 2012 at 7:46pm

      IMHO, the various 'occupy movements' have done nothing but demonstrate just how close we stand on the precipice between democracy and the rest of the political processes (let's just refer to them as non-democratic). These folks are no longer happy with the democratic process, likely because it takes a little longer than a nanosecond to process. They prefer chaos in the streets. Yippee.