Monday, April 9, 2012

Quebec green groups organize "Quiet Spring" protest

By Mike De Souza
Postmedia News
April 9, 2012

Quebec's attention has been arrested recently by the massive student protests against tuition hikes, but a group of artists and activists is planning an Earth Day protest to bring together Quebeckers opposed to the Harper government's environmental policies. Photograph by: Dario Ayala , The Gazette .

Organizers of a "Quiet Spring" protest slated for Earth Day on April 22 anticipate a backlash against what they believe are weak government environmental policies, inspired by the peaceful revolution that brought sweeping changes to the province in the 1960s.

The event already has the backing of dozens of stars from Quebec's arts and entertainment scene as well as an endorsement from Roman Catholic bishops who are inviting parishes and congregations to ring their church bells for the occasion and join tens of thousands of people expected to hit the streets calling for change.

"The Quiet Revolution was a way of moving away from something that people felt no longer represented their values and where they were and embracing something new in terms of social relations and relations with the government and the church and so on and so forth," said Steven Guilbeault, a veteran environmentalist who co-founded Equiterre, a Quebec-based conservation group.

"This demonstration is a lot about that too. It's about (asking) what kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of economic model do we want to adopt?"

The protest coincides with warnings from Quebec Tories about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper's policies on such issues as crime, the environment and democratic reform are not going over well in the province and are fuelling the rise of the pro-sovereignty Parti Quebecois, which could hold another referendum if it wins the next provincial election.

Harper's minister for small businesses and tourism, Maxime Bernier, disputes the warnings, arguing Quebecers support many government policies that protect jobs and the economy.

But dozens of popular Quebec stars, including director and playwright Dominic Champagne, Oscar-award winning director Denys Arcand, actors Roy Dupuis and Marina Orsini, Olympic champion Sylvie Frechette, poet and singer Gilles Vigneault and comedian Louis-Jose Houde, have signed onto a manifesto that denounces such federal policies as Harper's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change as well as such provincial policies as an economic development plan in northern Quebec.

About 14,000 people have signed up already on a Facebook page to attend the event's main location in downtown Montreal's entertainment district, while organizers say more than 30,000 people have signed the manifesto, setting the table for one of the biggest environmental demonstrations in Canadian history.

Karel Mayrand, the Quebec director of the David Suzuki Foundation, said many citizens feel their concerns about ensuring sustainable development of resources are being ignored by governments.

"It's (currently) a boom and bust model," said Mayrand, who also is a presenter with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. "And the bust that follows is a permanent ecological one that lasts forever."

After the Harper government made international headlines in December when it announced plans to withdraw from the Kyoto agreement, Mayrand predicted the protest would deliver a surprising image that he hoped would send the world a different message about Canada.

He added that Champagne, who is well known for work with Cirque du Soleil, was inspired to help organize a major event after seeing only small crowds protest the Kyoto decision in the winter.

"I can't reveal what it will be now," said Mayrand. "But we hope this image will be seen around the world and I'd like it if other Canadian cities, other provinces, follow our movement and stage events like this around the country . . . And when we're in the streets with the churches, with unions, and with citizens to promote alternatives, people will no longer be able to say that we are trying to stop natural resources development projects. On the contrary, we're trying to do them differently."

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