Canadian Heroes

On April 11th, 2015, Canada’s premiers gathered in Quebec City to discuss a climate change strategy. Rallies supporting strong climate action were organised across the country, and as a climate activist I was invited by the organisers to speak at the Vancouver rally, held in front of the CBC’s headquarters.

This became my signature speech during the 2015 federal election campaign:

Full transcript as follows:

Friends, fellow citizens. Despite my feelings about the urgency of climate action,

I stand here today not in righteousness, but in earnestness.

I believe in a Canada that does not get stuck in the status quo and give up, but that rolls up its sleeves and takes ownership of its future. And I believe that this great challenge of climate change gives every Canadian an opportunity to be a hero.

Look at you guys.

It’s a Saturday afternoon. You could have stayed home or taken the day off. After years of disappointments and setbacks in the fight for climate justice you could have thrown your arms in the air and said “it’s too complicated, we’re all doomed, there’s no point”. But instead you came here. Because you cared. You’re already my heroes.

Et à ceux à Québec aujourd’hui qui ont mené l’effort et organisé la plus grande manifestation. Vous aussi vous êtes mes héros.

But as we stand here and pressure society to change its ways, I ask only that we do so with respect and kindness, and with the humility to accept that even those who strongly disagree with us can be doing so in good faith.

I ask the very same thing of those who align themselves with Canada’s fossil fuel industry. Our fight against the oilsands expansion is not out of disrespect for the role they play in our current well-being, but out of a profound respect for the danger they pose to our future well-being.

More than anyone else, this country needs your courage and your heart. Not merely to comply with the phase out of fossil fuels – you’re bigger than that – Canada needs you to lead the transition to a renewable energy economy.

As your cousins, as your our fellow citizens: we don’t want to hate you, we don’t want to fight you – we will if we have to and we are here today because we have no choice – but we’d much rather you be our heroes… wouldn’t you? If we did not ask you to change, we would not begin to deserve your friendship.

No, let us reserve our strongest words for our beloved Premiers and political leaders: as always you are the real targets, simply because by seeking these offices you have accepted the responsibility of leadership.

If you use your power to maintain us on this path towards a destabilised and deteriorated world, then you give us no choice. We will fight you in the courts, we will fight you at the polls, and we will fight you in the streets. We have nowhere to go and nothing to lose. We don’t have another century we can live in.

And do not forget that this is a battle you cannot win. Because with every barrel of oil dug out of the ground, with every ton of carbon released into the air, and with every degree increase in temperatures, the political playing field tilts in our favour. We will eventually win. But while the political playing field tilts in our favour, history tilts against us all.

Some would say that you only care about power and prestige. I disagree. I believe deep down in your hearts you joined politics because, like so many of us here today, you were yearning for the opportunity to make a difference.

So we face this great task of building a new economy, one that honours the Earth we have inherited and ensures the welfare of humanity, let us not forget the words of Bobby Kennedy, a hero in his own right, who spoke of civil rights but whose words remain true today:

“We must do this not because it is economically advantageous, although it is, not because the laws of God command it, although they do, not because people in other lands wish it so…. we must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do”

And to those who might be watching a recording of us years from now, those who will know what climate change really means and who may be tempted to feel anger towards the mistakes of our generation, I ask only this: judge us not for our difficulties mastering an issue with such widespread causes and distant consequences. As human beings this does not come naturally to us. Judge us instead on whether we show the courage and heart to never give up trying.

My friends: regardless of who you are – a Premier heading to Quebec city, an oil entrepreneur tempted by a new industry, or a fellow citizen concerned about your future: now is your chance to be a Canadian hero.

Thank you. I believe in this country. Je crois en vous. And I look forward to our journey together.

Wyatt Tessari, April 11 2015, Vancouver BC


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