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“It’s about time”: Historic municipal debate takes place in Montreal’s Chinatown

On Saturday, municipal candidates go head-to-head in Montreal’s famous and neglected neighbourhood

This past Saturday, Montreal’s Chinese community had their voices heard in the first-ever municipal debate in Chinatown. With the municipal election coming up on Nov. 7, participants and candidates discussed solutions to protect the last Chinatown in Quebec.

On Oct. 16, the Progressive Chinese of Quebec (CPQ), Chinese Family Service of the Greater Montreal Area (CFS) and the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) hosted the debate in the Chinese Community & Cultural Centre of Montreal on Clark St. at 11:30 a.m. Almost 100 community members of all ages poured into the conference room, with media organizations interviewing them at every corner.

The goal of the debate was to hold the municipal government accountable for the responsibility of Chinatown. CWG member and event organizer May Chiu expressed her excitement for this historical debate. “We’re hoping that community members will come out and ask questions to the candidates and get them to commit to their promises,” she said.

Community members were overwhelmed with emotion as they felt recognized by the municipal government. “It’s about time,”* activist Janet Lumb told The Concordian. “We’ve been fighting for many years to have the recognition and acknowledgement [from the municipal government] of the fact there are some serious issues that need to be confronted and dealt with,” she explained.

Candidates who were present include Mouvement Montréal’s mayoral candidate Balarama Holness, Ensemble Montréal’s candidate councillor Aref Salem, Projet Montréal’s Robert Beaudry, and Action Montréal’s candidate councillor Robert Sévigny along with Jean-Christophe Trottier, who left the debate before it started, due to his refusal to comply with health safety guidelines.

Throughout the pandemic, Montreal’s Chinese and other Asian communities experienced a rise in hate crimes, ranging from vandalism, robbery and physical assaults. In addition, most of Chinatown’s properties are at risk of gentrification and businesses are struggling to make ends meet. Around 108,000 Montrealers claim Chinese ancestry, with many more a part of the general Asian community.

Last year, Mayor Valérie Plante proposed an action plan to help preserve and improve the cultural integrity of Chinatown by adding more green spaces in the area, increasing pedestrian access to the neighbourhood and building social and affordable housing units.

The debate began at 12 p.m. with words of appreciation by May Chiu and the Tiohtià:ke land acknowledgement in French and English, followed by the Mandarin and Cantonese translations.

The two-hour debate covered five topics:

  • Protecting Chinatown’s heritage
  • Social and racial justice
  • Arts and culture
  • Climate justice
  • Economic development

In Holness’ introduction speech, he discussed his familiarity with the neighbourhood and his appreciation of Chinese culture by retelling his memories of visiting Chinatown as a child and living in China. He also threw in a couple of words of Mandarin, which took the audience by surprise.

Holness said Movement Montréal would establish a registry in the neighbourhood where businesses receive wage subsidies and tax breaks for their rent to protect Chinatown’s roughly 150 businesses, emulating similar initiatives used in San Francisco for its Chinatown and other heritage sites, he argued. 

Ultimately, Holness concluded that the debate helps people “collectively improve the lives and livelihoods of Chinatown.”

Projet Montréal’s Beaudry said Valérie Plante’s party has close relations with arts and cultural organizations to help boost financing BIPOC art programs in the neighbourhood, as communities continue to face funding disparity from the provincial government. This initiative supports the cultural integrity of the neighbourhood.

He said the decisions made in Chinatown should go through the Chinese community first. “We want you to show us what you want to happen in Chinatown. It’s not a top-down situation, it’s a bottom-up situation.”

Salem said Ensemble Montréal will implement social housing for the homeless shelter near Chinatown, as well as provide social resource centres throughout the neighbourhood. “We need social housing [to] bring more people to this part of the city and we need to have some cultural events in the city so people can visit, and live, here in peace and harmony,” he added.

Action Montreal’s Sévigny mentioned protecting the environment, regarding the neighbourhood’s demand for green spaces in public and private areas. Before being required to leave the debate, Trottier said they will demand the provincial government to grant Chinatown as a heritage site, improve the infrastructure of Chinatown and impose stricter bylaws to prevent further construction, as well as creating a better dynamic with the Chinese community.

 

Photograph by Mohammed Khan

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Spending money for money

“I just bought that private Island, land ho!“ yells a white millennial man in a khaki-coloured research hat, while gliding towards shore on a small boat. He flashes the papers to prove it, and later we’re told that the land cost $730,000.  We’re now less than a minute into the video, aptly titled “I Bought A Private Island,” by YouTuber MrBeast.

MrBeast, a.k.a. Jimmy Donaldson, has made a career off of this type of content. A quick scroll through his YouTube page will show you dozens of titles reminiscent of the aforementioned private island video. “I Spent $1,000,000 on Lottery Tickets and WON,” “Lamborghini Race, Winner Keeps Lamborghini,” “Spending $1,000,000 In 24 Hours” — the formula becomes obvious.

To those unacquainted, Donaldson’s content may seem like a mishmash of neon thumbnails and immature bragging. However, MrBeast content is highly planned and researched and fits squarely within YouTube’s newest vice — flex culture.

The term comes from the idea of flexing — to show off or boast, first popularized by rap and hip hop artists before it trickled into wider popular culture.

Flexing has found a home for itself on YouTube with influencers making mass amounts of content specifically about their consumerist tendencies. Gucci shopping sprees, opulent vacations and closet tours filled to the brim with Birkin Bags have become a genre of their own, where influencers shamelessly flaunt the vast fortunes they have amassed on the platform.

To understand this phenomenon, it’s important to take a look at the current influencer market to understand why creators would be interested in producing “flex” content.

YouTubers now have more revenue streams than ever. Up until just a few years ago, Adsense — the Google program that allows YouTubers to make money from ads run on their videos — was the primary way YouTubers gained an income. But now that social media influencing is seen as a lucrative business, more parties are involved financially. Due to third party partnerships, which can come in the form of corporate sponsorships and affiliate links (not to mention income from merch and Patreon), creators are less beholden to their audience.

On the one hand, having multiple income streams can be creatively freeing, as ideally you would be less compelled to shape content simply around increasing the amount of eyeballs you’d get on your ads. However, for many already ultra-successful creators, the cushion of third party income can diminish the importance of viewer satisfaction. In other words, if you’re already making hundreds of thousands of dollars from sponsorships, how many people like and comment on your videos really doesn’t hold as much weight.

Furthermore, many creators who make “flexing” videos are ones who rose to fame on the basis of their personalities alone. While some gained their success through makeup tutorials, such as Jeffree Star, many have risen to fame through simply their demeanor and conventional attractiveness. The concept of “being famous for being famous” has existed since the reality TV boom, and arguably earlier. However, with the democratizing features of social media, the saturation of this type of celebrity is higher than ever.

So what do you do when you have achieved wild online success for no discernible talent and you have more money than you know what to do with? You make the money itself your content.

However, flex content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Many of these YouTubers have young fans who have yet to develop a mature understanding of class and money. So, for these viewers, the sheer indulgence of these flex videos may just seem aspirational, not shocking.

Additionally, these sorts of videos promote unhealthy views of consumption. Luxury haul videos, for example, normalize the mass consumption of unnecessary goods. While haul videos from fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Shein can be found all over the internet, they’re often slammed as problematic for their promotion of unethical brands. However, luxury brands’ practices can be just as bad, as they also outsource their production to countries with less worker protections. And that’s all before you even factor in the major price markup. Needless to say, no matter where you shop, “hauling” goods can never be sustainable.

Flex culture is not likely to go away anytime soon. As long as we live in a society with major wealth disparity, some people will have massive fortunes, and others will like to live vicariously through them. Many of us are financially suffering and trapped at home, where it’s easy to spend all day staring at social media. It could be fun in these times to escape into the lavish lifestyle of others. However, at the end of the day, it only serves to further the divide as these creators get richer and richer.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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Opinions

The case for cash: why turning away cash in the midst of a pandemic is a bad idea

Refusing cash payments disadvantages Canada’s most vulnerable populations

It’s an experience most of us have become accustomed to: you step into a cafe, mask on, hands freshly sanitized at the front door. You order your drink, whip open your wallet, and pull out your debit card to seal the deal. You’re playing by the rules — as you should — and this includes your decision to pay with plastic. After all, there’s a sign taped to the sheet of plexiglass separating you and your barista that reads: “TO PROTECT BOTH YOU AND OUR STAFF, PLEASE PAY WITH DEBIT/CREDIT ONLY.”

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has led many vendors to favour card over cash in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. For a lot of people, this transition is no big deal. We’re so used to tapping our cards and completing transactions in a matter of milliseconds that now even entering our pincodes feels like a chore, let alone counting out bills and taking back the change. Even before COVID hit, paper (or rather, polymer) money was on the outs: in a 2018 survey, a quarter of Canadian cash users reported a decrease in their usage over the previous year. Evidently, the rise of credit-rewards, online-shopping, and mobile payment technology has caused many consumers to cut down on cash, leaving their piggy banks to collect dust.

For some Canadians, however, the transition from paper to plastic isn’t so simple. According to data from the World Bank, nearly one per cent of Canadians are unbanked, meaning they’re entirely unserved by banks or similar financial institutions. Other sources, such as ACORN Canada, report that up to three per cent of the population are unbanked — that’s roughly 1.1 million people. While it’s true that opening a bank account is usually free, keeping it isn’t; most accounts charge monthly fees that, for many people, aren’t worth the added expense. Plus, opening a bank account requires sufficient identification, which thousands of homeless and precariously-homed Canadians don’t possess.

In mid-March, just as COVID’s first wave began to take off, the Bank of Canada asked vendors to continue accepting cash to avoid putting an “undue burden on those who depend on cash and limited payment options.” Despite this statement, there are still signs with dejected-looking emojis on them that read “NO CASH” taped to storefront windows, even as we reach the end of September. Although vendors, workers, and consumers are doing everything they can to keep their interactions as contactless as possible, experts say banning cash isn’t necessary. According to the experts, handling bank notes is no riskier than touching other surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails, and the buttons on debit machines. As long as appropriate safety measures are respected following the use of cash, such as thorough handwashing, it’s considered a socially responsible way to spend money.

The barriers preventing vulnerable populations from achieving security and stability are endless, and putting up another barrier will only further escalate these inequalities. For too many, the freedom to pay cash isn’t a choice, but a means of survival. If you’re able to choose debit or credit, then by all means, do. But if you’re someone with the power to refuse or accept a bank note, it might be time to change your mind about change.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper

The unplanned lessons of historical tragedies

“World War II started on a Sunday afternoon when I was on my way to the movies.” -Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Masks, social distancing and self-isolation have all become mundane, even exasperating words in our daily vocabularies. Nightly newscasts religiously report new positive cases and updated death tolls, the weather isn’t the main subject of small talk anymore, and even the smell of cheap alcohol from grocery store hand sanitizer is a bother we have become accustomed to.

Every day when I take the crowded metro home and come across a child no taller than my waist clad with an oversized face covering, I wonder what kind of world the coronavirus will create for them. The new generation is currently navigating through hyper-vigilant and germaphobic circumstances, and I doubt many will remember the days before daily STM cleanings — a frequency which most preferred to stay blind to.

The post-COVID world is going to be a lot more different than we anticipated, though. For one, the structure of the 9-5 job and mandatory class attendance has been shattered. We’ve suddenly been introduced to the unfamiliar idea that people can still be just as productive without the added stresses of day-to-day life, like long commutes and cramped cubicles. In another sense, this crisis has been a breakthrough in regards to our use of technology; new social rules have made many tools a necessity rather than a luxury. Contactless payment, online banking, smartphones, computers, working Wi-Fi connections, and, of course, Zoom, all became indispensable tools as we witnessed the exodus of in-person working, schooling, and shopping. The coronavirus has fast forwarded the world’s dependence on technology by years.

We use the hopeful phrase “once Corona is over” as if the pandemic hasn’t already changed our values, habits, and traditions. No one thought quarantine would last so long, that it would bring back the advent of hobby culture—most have reconnected with their affinity for hiking, knitting, reading, etc.—or that many would suddenly catch up on years of neglecting their New Year’s resolutions to be healthier. Having said that, the aggravation of substance addiction and the hike in cases of domestic abuse have also been distressing side-effects of self-isolation. But it seems that throughout generations, global tragedies have always changed the lives of ordinary people in unexpected ways.

Everyone from my generation either has (or knows someone who has) an extraordinary story about what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001. My father was a firefighter. My fourth grade teacher turned on the TV to a live image of the Pentagon being hit. These stories transcend borders; the Earth kept turning, but the whole world stopped to remember what they were doing during the few seconds after the breaking news broadcasted.

Innumerable articles and research papers documenting the aftermath of 9/11 denote the sharp rise of Islamophobic ideas. With “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” as the Western world’s new favorite dictum, division and otherization became common defense mechanisms.

The union of the media and the image through the recent accessibility of television quickly made the Vietnam war an international concern. From the sight of a Vietnamese girl crying as she ran from a napalm attack, and from nightly broadcasts showing the true face of American liberty, erupted a global anti-war movement. With protests in Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Auckland, the public was slowly recognizing how technology could become a tool for connecting with our world. During 9/11, this same idea went even further as millions turned to the Internet to communicate with their loved ones, to find out about the newest updates, to share their thoughts and prayers. In the era of COVID, society can’t do without digital.

Nuclear power built a reputation for itself in 1986, when a faulty reactor in Chernobyl exploded, directly killing an estimated 30 to 50 people. Radiation became an entertaining comic book character backstory, but in the years following the disaster, just as we had seen after US troops left Vietnam, it also became a lesson not to mess with chemicals. This isn’t the scientific development we would’ve wished to see.

It’s not very uplifting to look back on atrocities that happened barely a century ago and that have left wounds still open today. But in the present, I think it can be grounding to think of history as something that happens to individual people, one day at a time. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m too young to remember the voice on the radio announcing terror attacks south of our border, but I can describe exactly what I was doing and where I was on the day I first heard of the “Wuhan virus.” History is made up of the stories we remember, and I hope that my memory can conjure up something positive, for a change—once Corona is over.

 

Photo Collage by Christine Beaudoin

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News

A crude economy: Canada’s dependence on the oil industry

Plans to lower greenhouse gas emissions, while expanding the fossil fuel industry

Thick, sticky, black crude oil infused with sand could realistically be considered Alberta’s lifeblood. Canada’s lust for this natural resource keeps the nation from successfully meeting lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission goals.

Every day, 2.5 million barrels of the substance are pumped out of Alberta’s land, according to a report released by the Pembina Institute, a Canadian non-profit think-tank. The tar sands account for 140,000 square kilometres of the province’s territory—a slice of land larger than England and only slightly smaller than the state of Florida.

“The oil sands are a key part of the economic growth potential for Canada,” said Amberly Dooley, the manager of the oil sands for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). A driving force of this growth is the demand from the United States, which purchased 3,228 million of the 3,867 million barrels produced across Canada daily in 2016, according to CAPP.

Dooley claimed the oil sands will play a key role in the country’s economic future and projected a 53 per cent increase in output by 2030.

Canada’s dependence on oil as a significant export puts a lot of pressure on the country’s economy—as shown by the matching fluctuation of the price of oil and the Canadian dollar.

“Our dollar is coupled to the price of oil and that’s no coincidence,” said Daniel Horen Greenford, a Concordia PhD student investigating Canada’s impact on climate change. He is looking at how, by exporting oil, Canada drives oil consumption and GHG outside its borders.

According to Horen Greenford, the price of oil and the Canadian dollar have been in sync for about a decade, although Global News claims the trend began as early as 2003. The cause, according to the news outlet, was a rise in the price of oil coupled with a heightened demand from major economies, like the United States and China.

According to Horen Greenford, Canada’s investment in the oil industry over the last decade has made the country’s economy “volatile,” despite only accounting for two per cent of the country’s (gross domestic product) GDP. The same can be said for the job market within this industry.

While the national unemployment rate rose to 6.3 per cent in 2014, the rate in Alberta dropped to 4.4 per cent after the province created 63,700 new jobs that year, according to Statistics Canada. Yet in the first month of 2015 alone, the price of oil plummeted from US$53 to US$31.45 a barrel, reported CTV News. The unemployment rate in Alberta spiked as the province lost 19,600 jobs in 2015—the province’s largest hit since 1982, according to the same source.

By November 2016, Statistics Canada reported that the province’s unemployment rate had peaked at nine per cent. A rise in the price of oil the following year, however, led to the creation of 12,000 new jobs in Alberta, lowering unemployment to 7.8 per cent.

Despite the roller-coaster tendencies of Canada’s oil industry, the allure of employment stems from its potential prosperity. In 2014, the annual salary for newly graduated engineers working in Alberta was $80,000, while employees in senior executive positions earned up to $380,000, according to Oil Sands Magazine.

According to Peter Graham, a professor at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, the appeal is based on more than just the salary. “Under the current economic regime, the aspect of having a job and being productive is a critical aspect of identity,” he said. As such, “when unemployment rates go up, suicide rates generally follow.”

Amid the significant drop in oil price in 2015 and the subsequent job losses, CBC News reported that 30 per cent more Albertans committed suicide in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2014.

CANADA’S GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

In November, more than 15,000 members of the global scientific community published a letter in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience, titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” The letter was a follow-up to an appeal written in 1992 by more than 1,700 independent scientists, which urged a drastic change in environmentally destructive practices in order to avoid “vast human misery.”

The recent version of the letter revisits the 1992 warning and emphasizes the global community’s shortcomings in the decades since.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” the letter reads. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Despite Canada’s agreement to reduce its GHG emission levels by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, the country plans to expand its fossil fuel industry. From 2014 to 2015, national emission levels only decreased by five megatonnes—from 727 to 722, the National Post reported. This is a far cry from the 2030 target of 523 megatonnes.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the entire oil and gas sector is the nation’s largest GHG emitter in 2015, responsible for 26 per cent of the country’s emissions. Alberta’s oil sands alone represented 9.8 per cent of these emissions. Close behind was the transportation sector—which relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry—at 24 per cent.

Yet, in 2014, the federal government had approved 81 tar sands mining projects scheduled to begin between that year and 2020, according to the Pembina Institute report. At that time, there were also 74 projects in the application stages and 56 more announced for after 2030. Taking into account that not all of the planned projects will proceed, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers still predicts that, by 2030, oil sands production levels will rise from the 2014 rate of 2.5 million barrels per day to 4.8 million, according to the Pembina report.

As such, it seems reasonable that the Ottawa Citizen reported that oil sands emissions are expected to be responsible for more than half of the total 124 per cent increase in Canada’s GHG output between 2010 and 2030.

“At some point, people will wake up and realize we have a choice: get off fossils fuels or face a very grim—and possibly terminal—future as a species,” said Concordia’s professor Graham. “This means that long-term investments in fossil fuel infrastructure is beyond greedy and stupid—it is suicidal.”

Graham stressed that closing Canada’s oil sands would not only greatly reduce the country’s emission levels, it would also put Canada in “a much better position to exert moral persuasion over countries to cut their emissions and close their mining operations.”

Yet CAPP manager Dooley claims the oil sands are only one piece of the puzzle, since the transportation and industrial sectors are also large GHG emitters. “The oil sands industry is probably one of the leaders in developing technology innovations to help look at reducing the GHG created by the operations in Northern Alberta,” she added.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

PUSHING AWAY FROM THE OIL ECONOMY

As of 2015, there were more employees in the global renewable energy sector than the oil and gas sector, according to the Huffington Post. While renewable energy jobs worldwide totalled 8.1 million in 2015, the oil and gas sector lost 250,000 jobs that same year.

Relying on hydropower as well as wind, geothermal, biomass and solar energy, Costa Rica survived on 100 per cent renewable energy for 300 days this year, according to The Independent. Legislators in Hawaii and California have also set goals to make their states 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2045.

In 2015, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven pledged to make his country “the first fossil-free welfare state in the world,” and announced a US$546-million action plan for renewable energy and climate change, according to Global Research, a Montreal-based centre for research on globalization.

Even oil-giant Saudi Arabia has been making efforts to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependency on oil, according to The Washington Post.

In Canada, there were 36,000 employees working in the renewable energy sector, reported by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) last year. Yet, while Canada is the world’s seventh-largest manufacturer of wind energy, 43 per cent of the country’s energy production still comes from crude oil and another 33 per cent from natural gas, according to Natural Resources Canada’s 2016-17 “Energy Fact Book” report.

There are, nonetheless, some sustainable initiatives taking place across the country. Ontario, for example, has become a large producer of wind energy and has reduced operations of coal-fired power plants. In Quebec, Hydro-Québec produces 99 per cent of its electricity using water, which significantly lowers the province’s GHG emissions, according to the company’s website.

According to Natural Resources Canada, 96 per cent of Quebec’s energy in 2010 was generated using hydropower. Yet, on a regional basis, Quebec only generates 4.1 per cent of Canada’s total energy, while Alberta produces 62.8 per cent on average, according to the same source.

“We have the technology but not the political will to move towards greener cities,” said Ricardo Duenez, a Concordia professor in the geography, planning and environment department.

“Fossil fuels are not economically viable anymore,” Graham said. “They’re not good for the economy.” The reason alternative, solar and wind energies are not a bigger part of Canada’s energy production, the Concordia professor explained, is because of a widespread anxiety induced by capitalism that generates an excessive need for natural resources and fear about a reality without these goods.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

“Government will not lead—only follow. The days of heroic and enlightened politicians is over,” Graham said. “Politics has become a career, not a calling. Scientists especially need to re-imagine their role in society.”

Echoing this sentiment, Duenez emphasized the smaller-scale changes that can be made by individual Canadians. As an example, he cited the city-wide compost system that Montreal began expanding on in 2015, with the goal of having every household in the city compost by 2019.

“We need to think [of] what ways we can live together with nature while having a happy lifestyle,” Duenez said. The key, he added, is accepting that we need to learn to live with less.

“Montreal should look around the world for examples,” Duenez said, using Asia’s vertical farming industry as an example. Instead of growing crops in fields outdoors, vertical farming is done inside old warehouses and discontinued factories. Vegetables and herbs are grown in these tight spaces, using unnatural light and cloth instead of soil, according to BBC News.

In 2015, as the price of oil dropped, Alberta oil sands workers created the Iron and Earth initiative to promote sustainable energy and train unemployed electricians from the oil sands for renewable energy jobs in Alberta. According to the initiative’s website, the members of Iron and Earth believe that Canada has failed to take a leading role in the global renewable energy industry and needs to develop “a more diversified approach” to its energy sector.

“Simply waiting for government to act would provide the highest certainty of failure,” Graham said. “Individual people need to change the way they talk to each other, change the way they interact with the environment and change their understandings of the human place in the world.”

Graphics by Zeze Le Lin

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Indigenous community members visit Concordia to discuss climate change initiatives

First Nations communities are rallying the public to join them in defending the land from the North Dakota Pipeline

On Sept. 13, Divest Concordia and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) invited three Indigenous activists to discuss the effects of climate change and why they oppose oil companies, which they say are destroying their communities.

The speakers included Vanessa Gray, a youth activist from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont., and Kiona Akohserà:ke Deer and Onroniateka Diabo, who are both from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. Akohserà:ke Deer and Diabo recently returned from Standing Rock, where protests over the North Dakota Pipeline are taking place.

The discussion began as Gray outlined the challenges facing the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community. She said the area is surrounded by over 60 high-emitting facilities which make up over 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry. Even then, it is “impossibly hard,” she said, to mobilize the 800 residents against climate change.

“Climate change is not the subject people want to talk about in Sarnia,” she said. “In a place where education is shared—let’s take Concordia for example—talking about climate change might be easier than [in] a place where everyone’s livelihood is based off [gas companies like] Shell or Suncor.”

Companies that are not being held accountable for negligence are damaging the environment, said Gray, and the population is also affected by it.

According to Gray, thirty per cent of women in Aamjiwnaang have experienced miscarriages or stillbirths within their lifetime. “This is just based on where they live—not based on diet or what the mother is doing,” she said.

In an ongoing court case, Gray said she is facing heavy charges for her role in the December shutdown of Line 9—a pipeline with the capacity to carry 300,000 barrels of oil a day between Sarnia, Ont. and Montreal. This year, the pipeline turned 40 years old.

“We cannot survive a pipeline rupture like Line 9 because there’s no way of cleaning it up. This is why I’m facing life in prison—because there is no other choice at this point,” Gray said. “It’s just one of the many issues that connects us all. It connects me to you, because this pipeline starts in my backyard and ends here [in Montreal].”

After Gray, Akohserà:ke Deer shared what changes she recently noticed taking place in her Kahnawake community, and what she had learned since returning from Standing Rock.

She said she had been approached by young people outside the community who were looking for a way to work together. A lot of the elders are still reluctant to welcome those not of Indigenous descent, Akohserà:ke Deer said, however claiming she believes her generation is more open.

She further encouraged people to get the word out via social media, about the social injustices facing Indigenous communities not just locally, but globally as well.

For anyone looking to get directly involved, Akohserà:ke Deer said: “Try to educate yourselves a little bit before you walk into somebody else’s community. There’s different protocols everywhere. In Kahnawake, how we mobilize is completely different from how they mobilize now in Standing Rock.”

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News

Energy East: A nation-wide battle

Canada’s decision between the extraction of natural resources and saving our land

The Energy East pipeline project is causing conflicts in towns and cities that will be affected by TransCanada’s nation-long pipeline proposal—Montreal being one of them.

The pipeline proposal has reemerged storylines of environmental concerns clashing with corporate interests.

In Montreal, protesters delayed the Aug. 29 Energy East hearings held by the National Energy Board (NEB) until further notice. The hearings, which were scheduled to last all week, were set up for commissioners of the NEB to gain an understanding of the public’s opinion towards the Energy East proposal. The report would then be forwarded to TransCanada to rework issues the public has with the pipelines.

“In the last five years or so—with climate concerns, indigenous rights and sovereignty issues and all these social issues—pipelines have become a lot more controversial,” said Kristian Gareau, a protester at Montreal’s Energy East hearing and a Concordia Masters student in the Individualized Program (INDI). He added that he believes the pipeline project is not fit for today’s reality.

Gareau said he believes some of the population are already dissatisfied with TransCanada’s pipeline project—including environmentalists, scientists and farmers. “On top of that, you see some of these secret meetings that took place with [NEB and former Quebec premier] Jean Charest who is a paid TransCanada lobbyist,” he added. This scandal is a great ammunition for protesters such as Gareau who claim there is a bias within the required NEB report, which must report on the public’s opinion on Energy East at the end of the public consultation process.

“The NEB is supposed to be impartial and issue recommendations in the public interest,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec and Environmental Sciences student at Concordia. He said many residents believe the NEB cannot continue with hearings for TransCanada because it has become clear that at least two of the three commissioners tasked with overseeing the hearings and writing a report on public interest concerning the Energy East pipelines have already been promoting it.

Gareau describes the NEB as a powerful entity, stating that as a commissioner or board member there is a responsibility to provide a fair and natural balanced review on public opinion towards pipelines. However, Gareau believes—in regards to meetings between Charest and two of the three commissioners—it is difficult for the NEB to form an unbiased report. “There’s kind of a revolving door between industry and the NEB, so the cultures and interests of the oil and gas industry are very much entrenched in the NEB,” said Gareau.

Tyrrell said the NEB initially denied meeting with Charest. However, once it was revealed the meetings did take place, the NEB was then ordered to admit the meetings had occurred and to release notes taken during the meeting, said Tyrrell. The published notes revealed that the commissioners and Charest discussed how to spin the NEB report in a way that would gain support from Quebec residents. “Their job isn’t to do public relations, it’s to do safety and environmental analysis,” Tyrrell said.

Tyrrell added people should be trained specifically to evaluate these projects on behalf of government organizations and anyone involved in the energy industry due to their loyalties to energy companies should not be hired. “They’re supposed to be evaluating the project on behalf of the citizens,” said Tyrrell. He said it should not be on behalf of TransCanada or on behalf of people who are fixated on prolonging the life of the oil industry to continue its existence into the future.

Tyrrell said similar circumstances led to catastrophes like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “The regulators were far too close with the industry and lacked the teeth to really do anything— even when problems were well known,” said Tyrrell.

There are also concerns about the safety and reliability of TransCanada’s plan. Of the 4,550 km of proposed pipeline for this project, approximately 75 per cent of those pipelines will be converted from old gas transmission lines, according to Energy East pipeline spokesperson Tim Duboyce.

Tyrrell said this proposal is problematic. “Not only are the pipes already aged and worn, but they were never designed to carry tar sands oil in the first place,” he said, adding that alterations to existing natural gas pipelines increase the probability of spills.

Duboyce said there are a series of pipelines that cross the Prairies through Northern Ontario. The pipeline splits as some of the pipelines head to the Greater Toronto area, while others continue east towards Ottawa and then South from there.

The new section of the pipeline would run from Iroquois, Ontario and up across the Ottawa river, said Duboyce. In Quebec, the pipeline would cross the North Shore towards Laval and connect with the Suncor Energie refinery. “It would travel beneath the St. Lawrence river about 100 meters below the bedrock in a concrete tunnel we’re going to build adjacent to an existing pipeline that actually crosses the St. Lawrence,” Duboyce said. The pipeline would reach the Valero refinery located in Lévis, Q.C., continuing east towards New Brunswick and then on to St. John’s, N.B. where it will be attached to a marine export terminal.

While TransCanada says the pipeline will give both Quebec and Canada an economic advantage, critics to the pipeline say the advantages of a pipeline like Energy East are, at best, short term.

TransCanada advertises that Energy East will generate a large amount of employment. “During the development and construction phase of the project, Energy East will support, on an annual basis, 14,000 full-time direct and spinoff jobs across the country,” said Duboyce. He said among 14,000 of the full time jobs stated, Quebec employment represents an average of 3,100 full-time direct and spinoff jobs annually during a nine year development and construction period.

However, as Tyrrell points out, the development and construction period will only last nine years, resulting in the predicted high employment rates being limited to that timeframe.

“They claim 14,000 jobs for the overall project … but those are just construction jobs. It’s really short-term,” said Tyrrell. “Once the pipeline is built, even TransCanada will tell you—there’s only 33 permanent full-time jobs in Quebec.”

Tyrrell said his greatest concern for the proposed Energy East pipelines is the level of development of the tar sands the pipelines will permit, ultimately contributing to Canada having a larger oil industry.

Tyrrell said the oil TransCanada will be transporting through these pipelines is not necessarily for domestic consumption. “Once it’s built it’s going to be in the ground for at least 50 years, and it’s going to tie the entire country into the practice of digging up this inherently unsustainable resource and exporting it to other countries,” said Tyrrell.

Duboyce said TransCanada plans to make Canadian crude oil more competitive outside the US markets and expand into international markets. He also said that Energy East will make it possible for refineries to buy Canadian oil instead of oil from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

“One of the key points that gets lost in this conversation … is that there’s only one thing that drives oil production, oil transportation—and that’s oil consumption by people,” said Duboyce.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

Duboyce stressed the importance of expanding Canada’s oil industry in order to benefit Canada’s economy. Not only do we use oil to fuel our transportation, but we find oil in our cell phones, computers, some clothing, makeup and chewing gum, Duboyce said. “It’s a pretty important component of the economy.”

However, Gareau strongly disagrees. “It’s economic considerations are very short-term,” he said, adding that the economic prospects of how much the oil currently valued may now be overvalued. “This fossil economy is declining.”

“We need to leave a lot of fossil fuels in the ground,” said Gareau. “How we’re actually going to do that—that’s what we need to be talking about.” He said people need to be discussing 21st century energy and economic opportunities, instead of relying on traditional needs—such

as crude oil. “[The pipeline] also locks Canada into a fossil economy that will be defunct in the next decade or two, putting us that much further behind in the emerging green economy,” said Gareau.

“[NEB is] going to let the companies continue to exploit them anyway and they’re going to get the public and the environment to absorb the risk.” Tyrrell said. “It’s really short term economic gain vs. long term environmental sacrifice—it’s a question of priorities.” Tyrrell said once these pipelines have been built, there will be tons of subcontractors and companies already specialized in fabricating pipelines. “You can export pipeline parts to some other part of the world,” he said. “But chances are, they’re going to want to build another pipeline locally or as close to Montreal as possible.”

“The strategy of the environmental movement is to shut down the tar sands by blocking all of the exit paths,” said Tyrrell. He said the opposition has managed to block the Northern Gateway for the time being, but now it’s time for Eastern Canada to block the Energy East pipeline. Tyrrell said the resistance is going well so far. “The people protesting are not only speaking for themselves, they’re speaking for huge sections of the population—that includes [speaking for] the mayors of hundreds of different municipalities in Quebec.”

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Taxing the rich to save the middle class

Image by Jennifer Kwan

Benjamin Franklin once said: “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” Well for Gérard Depardieu, France took things a little too far. The French actor, displeased with the emergency 75 per cent tax on millionaires, was fortunate enough to receive a Russian passport from Russian President Vladimir Putin and left the country. He was, however, quick to say that it wasn’t because of the high taxes.

This new trend of taxing the super wealthy is now a global phenomenon; rising popularity in the idea among the people has driven politicians to look at this as perhaps a vital option after the financial hardships the world has faced in the last few years. Most probably still remember the infamous Occupy movement, an international protest against social and economic inequality.

It’s this global trend that lead to what France has called “fiscal justice”, and other nations are joining in as well. Many countries, including Spain, Greece, Britain and the United States have also made moves to increase taxes for the wealthiest people in their country.

The wealthy have a responsibility to their country to help clear their nation’s deficit; they became wealthy because of the opportunities they received from their government.

Take Warren Buffett; American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world, talks about the advantages he has as a wealthy businessman that the middle class don’t have. In his opinions piece for the New York Times, he wrote about how he paid less income tax relative to anyone in his office. Even this billionaire is willing to admit that there is something wrong with the lack of taxes he’s paying compared to others. Countries who allow the rich to avoid paying high taxes to this extent are now finding it necessary to start charging them. Sadly, unlike Buffett, other very wealthy people are not willing to part with their money so easily, despite the fact it could give the government the boost it needs to start cutting the deficit.

Last year, former president Bill Clinton went onto CBS News’ Face the Nation, supporting President Obama’s increase of taxes on the rich in America. Clinton said that there were three steps in order to reduce a deficit, and that they must be done in this order; economic growth, increase in revenue and spending cuts.

The first step, economic growth, has been taken care of in the United States through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This act is expected to pump $831 billion into the economy from 2009 through 2019 in order to get it going again, and has already shown its benefits in the American economy. That means the next step the United States has to take is increase revenue, and that has been a cause of debate with the American government. While Democrats were pushing to increase taxation on the rich while keeping taxes low on the middle and lower class, Republicans were against any increase, especially for the top earners. Realistically, it can’t be expected that the middle class be burdened with the bill of the deficit without another recession. However, the rich, who have been gaining more and more in the uneven distribution of American wealth, can take the extra burden.

One important thing to note is that the rich paying more taxes can help reduce the austerity programs that affect the whole country. If the government were to cut these benefits in order to try and regain balance, the new hardships that would affect people across the country would hurt rather than help. The rich benefited from this system, and now is the time for them to give back and help their country.

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