CUSJ President’s Report, Nov. 2014

Marg_RaoEarly Winter Greetings CUSJ Members All!

I know most of the country, even our members in Victoria, have been hit with unseasonably cold temperatures in November. Colder than normal temperatures are predicted across the country for the month of December too, according to Environment Canada. At least the feds haven’t cut funding to the weather bureau yet, as long as the forecasters stick to the weather script. The inconvenient truth , however, is: climate change is upon us and unless we begin the necessary transition away from fossil fuel dependency, extreme weather reports will become the norm on our daily news feeds and in our lives.

The good news is that talking about climate change is no longer taboo on Parliament Hill. There’s even an unofficial all-parties Climate Caucus led by Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who, no doubt , has had a positive influence on backbencher MP Michael Chong who recently warned the House, that, if left unchecked, “climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems… ‘As a Conservative,’ he said, ‘I believe that we have a moral obligation to conserve our environment, so I call upon this government to meet its commitment to reduce emissions and I call on all governments meeting next month in Lima, Peru, and next year in Paris, France, to work together toward a new global treaty to reduce emissions,” Chong’s

‘Reform Bill ‘, along with NDP MP Matthew Kellway’s re-introduction of the ‘Climate Change Accountability Act’ would come into effect following the 2015 election. This is where you, the electorate come into play.

Canada is at a crossroads and the 2015 election will determine which path we take. Leadnow is organizing town hall meetings right across the country beginning in early December with a cross-country campaign to unseat the Harper government. Check out their website to get involved and to get super motivated go to which has produced 100 public witness videos to date of individuals, organizations and public service institutions that have been muzzled or defunded by the Harper government. If this isn’t cause enough for concerted election action were you aware that as of November 4th our national government has been acting in defiance of the Federal Court of Appeal’s order to re-instate the refugee health care program? Contrary to the PMO’s public pronouncements, it hasn’t fully restored healthcare for all refugee claimants. How ironic that this ‘tough on crime’ government chooses to bend the rule of law to suit its own purposes!

‘Systems change, not Climate change’ is the latest cry on the street. All systems are broken –social, political, economic, ecological – ‘the interdependent web … of which we are a part’ and we need to devote ourselves to nursing our web back to health. It’s a daunting task but the load is lighter when we join with others already working both within and without the system to transform our world.

Social entrepreneurs, urban farmers, municipalities and provinces are taking the lead in turning to green energy, greenhouses and green living. Ontario and Quebec just signed an Energy Agreement to exchange electricity during periods of peak demand. Even more exciting was their joint statement to the effect that TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline proposal is not welcome in either province unless economic benefit can be shown, a proper environmental assessment done and the corporation assumes the full cost of insurance in case of oil spills. The ‘Our Risk, Their Reward’ citizens’ campaign has also proven very effective as it moves eastward from province to province. Never underestimate the power of the people and the words that speak truth to the ‘powers that be’.

At the international level, the U.S. and China, the two biggest carbon polluters on the planet, have also reached an ambitious bilateral agreement on greenhouse gas reductions, which now puts pressure on Canada to follow suit or risk being further ostracized by global institutions, and villainized by groups such as the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, whose recent strongly-worded letter to the government was endorsed by the CUSJ Board.

Individually and congregationally, CUSJers are doing their part by joining such organizations as the ones highlighted in the recent edition of JUSTnews, the CCPA, the CCLA, and the Council of Canadians. Coalition building is essential to growing mass social movements needed to ‘change everything’, according to Naomi Klein in her latest book ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate’. Klein has connected the dots between our corporate- driven, legally binding so-called ‘Free Trade Agreements’ and non-binding, international Climate Agreements.

The Council of Canadians ‘Trading Away Democracy Report’ details how CETA’s investor-state rules favour corporations over citizens. For one, the CETA deal would open ‘the municipal procurement market for European multinational companies, boosting corporate profits, with no public benefits’. Resilient local economies would lose out to the heavy ecological footprint of global investors. Ontario’s ‘Green Energy and Economy Act’ had to remove its minimum preference for local contracts clause under threat of major lawsuits by American and Japanese corporate interests. Localization of our economies is a social and ecological imperative! Fortunately, there is a growing number of ecological economists alongside a growing network of local living economies, comprised of community-based businesses and co-operatives, creating alternatives to corporate globalization. The new Divestment Committee at Toronto First is bringing a few such socially responsible, values-based, Canadian investment companies to the table in January to speak to our congregants about the new triple bottom line of investing in people and the planet before profits.

One piece of exciting news at the congregational level, is that the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa has voted to fully divest from fossil fuel companies.  Having taken the UUA’s lead to divest from fossil fuels at this year’s GA. This fast growing global divestment initiative by is now being considered at the Committee level at Toronto First, as well as by the CUC Board of Trustees at the national level, I hear through the CUSJ grapevine. This would be an opportune time to contact the CUC office and register your approval of such a planet-friendly decision.

CUSJ sent a letter one year ago to the Boards of every congregation asking them to consider divesting from fossil fuels. You can find the letter on CUSJ’s website. Take up the cause in your own congregation! You could also encourage the members of your congregation to participate in ClimateFast , also endorsed in the letter. ClimateFast holds a monthly fast (food and/or carbon) and letter writing campaign to MP’s as well as an annual ‘Fastival’ in September on Parliament Hill where much outreach to politicians and like-minded coalitions takes place.                          If there’s one point that politicians of all stripes keep making, it is that they don’t hear from many of their constituents on the urgency to act on climate change.                    If more congregations initiated a monthly letter-writing campaign based on ClimateFast’s sample letters, it might just be the incentive needed to break down the impasse on climate action. Just as there is a critical tipping point for the climate if we continue along the ‘business as usual’ trajectory, there is also a positive tipping point when a ‘critical mass’ movement for real democracy is reached.

The oil industry and its many corporate allies have maintained a blockade against measures to rein in rising carbon emissions for more than two decades, Klein discloses, but she also speaks inspiringly of another kind of blockade, a frontline , global Indigenous-led, activist-reinforced ‘Blockadia’, which is directly challenging the fossil fuel and mining industries’ destructive projects on their traditional lands. Blockades are happening in remote and not so remote places here in Canada as well, although we may not always hear about them in the mainstream news. The latest assault on democracy took place on Burnaby Mountain when peaceful protesters were arrested in defiance of a court order. To add insult to injury, a SLAPP suit ((Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation ) was launched against BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion) which is now requesting support for their legal defense fund. Longtime environmental activist, Karl Perrin , is keeping the CUSJ listserve well informed as to his own frontline activities and actions taking place by others in his neck of the woods.

Another positive development is the launch of at least 4 Study Groups on the Israel/Palestine conflict, despite or perhaps on account of the postponement of the Resolution on Human Rights in Palestine and Israel. Don Heights, under the leadership of Israeli raised Jake Javanshir, has been studying this issue for quite some time and inviting speakers from both sides of the conflict to speak at their Fellowship. First Unitarian Victoria‘s Social Responsibility Coalition has also been studying this issue at length. Ottawa First, launched a successful speakers series in October. (You can read all about it in ‘The Canadian Unitarian’ along with recommended readings). Toronto First will be launching the first of a series of dialogues on this seemingly intractable situation in December. Check it out on our our website.

The democratic process can be tense and time-consuming but it is well worth the effort and achieving its purpose, at least at the congregational level.

On a sad note, our sympathy goes to Dr. Hassan Diab, his family and friends and many CUSJ supporters as their hopes of a stay of extradition were shattered by the Supreme Court decision in mid-November. Hassan is determined to fight the justice system in France and he remains hopeful that he will be exonerated of all charges and able to return to his loved ones in Canada before too long.

CUSJ members, who fight the good fight for social and ecological justice, are inspired by such courageous Canadians and we remain equally determined and hopeful that justice and the democratic process within our congregations , our country and society at large, will prevail.

I am grateful to be counted in your good company and to share the journey for justice with you. And f.y.i. you can watch this just released documentary on the environment free for a limited time. Consider ordering a copy and screening it at your congregation!

“If you want to know who is going to change this country, go home and look in the mirror.” Maude Barlow

Your appreciative President,

Margaret Rao

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