Speech Motion 7, December 14, 2021. Official Report.

Women and girls are a powerful force for climate action. Polls consistently indicate that women are more aware than men of environmental degradation and its harms, want the government to take urgent action on this issue and they vote based on issues relating to climate.

Action to arrest, mitigate and prevent climate change and environmental degradation is a fundamental part of upholding the right of women and girls to equality. Climate policies won’t last if they do not reflect feminism or intersectionality. Success depends on us identifying vulnerabilities, creating more inclusive climate policies and improving economic equality and inclusion.

As Senator Galvez’s white paper highlighted, guaranteed liveable income initiatives would help to foster climate resilience. Such programs create opportunities for everyone to participate in climate action.

Climate action:
. . . requires urgent, society-wide mobilization to provide children born today with the liveable environment and
functioning health systems they need to thrive in a climate changed world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated what governments can do to respond effectively to a global crisis. The climate crisis demands the same level of action. We need policies that reduce demand for energy, end subsidies to fossil fuel industries and we need banks to end investments in fossil fuels and ramp up investment in sustainable, renewable energy. We need to end tax benefits for fossil fuel corporations that, according to last week’s report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, cost $1.8 billion annually or about $9.2 billion between 2015 and 2019.

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The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Pate, I am sorry to interrupt. Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock, and pursuant rule 3-3(1) and the order adopted on November 25, 2021, I’m obliged to leave the chair until seven o’clock unless there is leave that the sitting continue.

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: If you wish the sitting to be suspended, please say “suspend.”

Therefore, we continue with the sitting.

Senator Pate: As we saw with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit during the pandemic, income support can help keep families and communities afloat through the challenges associated with such mobilization, from lost employment to  ensuring that all have the means necessary to protect themselves from health hazards. This type of support could be particularly important as the economy transitions to better align with human, social and environmental well-being.

Looking forward, in addition to alleviating poverty, it is important to recognize and support Indigenous traditional knowledge and leadership in plans for climate action. Despite being differentially impacted by climate change and having fewer resources to adapt as a result of systemic inequities, Indigenous peoples continue to take the lead in protecting land and water in ways that benefit all of us. In spite of their laudable work, Indigenous peoples are too often criticized for causing “inconveniences” and depicted as transgressors of the rule of law, then criminalized and even imprisoned when they act to protect waters and lands.

Canadian legal systems have too often failed to protect and uphold rights conferred by Indigenous and international legal orders, such as those that Wet’suwet’en land and water protectors have been asserting. Canada has not, however, demonstrated the same hesitation when it comes to criminalizing and imprisoning Indigenous peoples for taking measures to protect themselves, their families or the environment.

As we work to address climate change and environmental degradation, it is clear that Canada needs to better recognize and respect Indigenous laws and rights. This must include following through on its commitment to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Criminalizing people for protecting their environment and asserting their rights will only escalate and underscore historic injustices.

Honourable senators, it is incumbent on us as people in positions of power to lead the way forward in climate action. We must not forget that the harms of climate change are not felt evenly, and that the most marginalized populations need our immediate attention. I urge us all to act now and support this motion and the work of Senator Galvez and many others, and help build a more sustainable, equitable and healthy society for generations to come. Meegwetch. Thank you.

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, I am speaking on behalf of the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of HydroImpacted Communities in Manitoba.

We welcome the opportunity to speak to this motion and offer insights into emerging urgencies and new threats, such as climate change, while also warning of the dangers posed by blindly accepting large-scale hydroelectric projects as a route towards the future reliance on renewable energy. Though the climate crisis offers a very real danger to all peoples of the world, promoted solutions must be founded in principles of justice and avoid the sacrifice of communities for the benefit of others.

The people who comprise our research partnership include grassroots individuals from a number of hydro-impacted First Nations in northern Manitoba who have expressed concern about the history and expansion of hydro power in their respective territories. Our alliance also includes researchers and academics from nine universities, as well as members of several local NGOs.

Northern Manitoba is home to many freshwater lakes and tributaries, some of which were critical to the earliest encounters and commercial activities that would eventually influence the settlement of Canada. Scholars have clearly documented the historic importance of several ancient tributaries such as the Churchill, the Nelson and the Saskatchewan rivers. For Ithiniwuk (the Cree), these tributaries sustained their ancestors and their communities for millennia. Beginning in the mid 1960s, however, a new industrial presence would irreversibly alter landscapes and reverse waterways.

During this time Manitoba, together with the federal government, embarked on a joint study which examined, in part, the feasibility of large-scale hydropower in the north. Not long after the completion of the study, Manitoba’s public utility ambitiously set out to “harness” the power of the waters in the region. Mega projects followed and in what would become known as the Churchill River Diversion and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects, massive diversion channels were excavated en masse so water flows could be rerouted. The purpose for the dams along the Nelson River was originally to save money on electricity production for Winnipeg and other communities in Southern Manitoba, not for any environmental reasons. The public discourse on climate change and its connection with fossil fuels did not enter public discourse until much later.

The Churchill River Diversion affects the flow of the Churchill River which historically and naturally flowed into Hudson Bay. This river was, by the mid 1970s, intentionally and artificially rerouted via the Missi Falls Control Structure at the outlet of South Indian Lake. Its new path now flows through the Rat and Burntwood Rivers and eventually into the Nelson River system. The Province of Manitoba writes that “CRD is used for the generating stations on the Nelson River, which account for about 75% of power generation in Manitoba.”

Large-scale hydro projects like the CRD in Manitoba were made possible by a series of agreements and deal making spanning more than 30 years, affecting four generations, and counting, in numerous Indigenous communities. Dam building for commercial purposes, and export, was ushered in with the signing of the Northern Flood Agreement in 1977. While this agreement involved the Province of Manitoba, the Board of Manitoba Hydro, the federal  government, and five First Nation communities collectively represented by the Northern Flood Committee, it was effectively triggered by the resistance of the Cree whose reserve lands would be flooded as a result of Hydro’s CRD and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects. This agreement, which has been acknowledged as a treaty, was meant to mitigate a broad range of adverse impacts, the scope of which were not entirely known at the time of its signing.

The CRD has directly impacted more than 8,000 kilometres of shoreline. This is a conservative estimate based on available data sets from publications of shorelines around South Indian Lake, but the true numbers are difficult to calculate due to the inaccessible nature of supposedly public information. . . . Both the Manitoba government and public have to rely on the information provided by Manitoba Hydro, because they fund the vast majority of scientific studies on their projects and utilize strategies of divide and conquer when signing agreements with communities.

The South Indian Lake community and its people were self sufficient, thriving and even prosperous, before the CRD project came to fruition, not having to rely on government intervention or support. The South Indian Lake Commercial Fishery was the third largest lake whitefish fishery in North America. South Indian Lake had an average annual income approximately seven times that of other Northern communities, because they were mainly reliant on fishing and trapping activities. Scientific reports on potential adverse impacts of the project were ignored by authorities and licences were granted for the Crown corporation to legally proceed.

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The hydroelectric energy produced by these megadams has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as “clean” and “renewable” energy. In the move towards addressing climate change through electrification, “greenwashing” of hyd0 power poses an emerging threat of ideological proportions. Ongoing dysfunctional and deep-rooted colonial structures, including jurisdictional gaps, also strain existing power imbalances in the region. This ecological footprint has resulted in impacts that have yet to receive due environmental consideration. Entire islands have been swallowed up. Historic and commercial fisheries have been decimated. Thousands of people and entire communities have been flooded, displaced and dispossessed.

Emissions from hydro dams are produced through the flooding of shorelines and forests, which introduces organic matter into the water that then decomposes, producing carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Flooding in northern Manitoba was not restricted to a single project or event. In the areas impacted by hydro operations, the water levels and flows are raised or lowered based on the demand for power. This results in ongoing inundation and/or dewatering of tributaries and produces greenhouse gas emissions on an ongoing basis. Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants. Independent scientific studies have shown emissions related to hydroelectricity to be severely undercounted. Rigorous monitoring of individual reservoirs is desperately needed, in order to ensure that they are not contributing significantly to climate change.

The shorelines of several historic tributaries throughout this region contain two histories and two competing narratives: one before hydro and the other after hydro. The former, life before hydro, represented an era where the people moved with the ebbs and flows of the land and waters, were independent, and sustained themselves on the very land and waters that have become critical to hydropower and its operations. Before hydro, the land and waters were pristine. Today these same lands, and the communities who relied on them, carry the cultural, social, environmental, and economic scars of a fairly recent and ongoing colonial encounter. The danger of marketing this energy as responsible, green, and clean, must be avoided; this energy is not without consequence and we have yet to measure the full scale and scope of its environmental footprint in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, its cumulative environmental impacts, or the ways it can exacerbate the climate crisis.

Renewable energy projects are desperately needed in the face of the climate crisis, but they must not be undertaken in a way that repeats the mistakes of the past. The hydro dams in Manitoba were developed in a colonial manner that did not prioritize collaboration with Indigenous Peoples or minimize environmental harm. Future energy projects should focus on renewable energies such as wind and solar that can be built closer to urban centres such as Winnipeg — reducing the amount of necessary infrastructure and fuel. These energies will also be less susceptible to future changes in our climate, unlike the susceptibility of hydroelectricity to a drought, such as we are currently experiencing in Manitoba. Northern Canada is also predicted to experience greater warming than the global average, signalling another reason to focus efforts on resilient solutions. We call upon governments and industry to seize the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to our energy needs and in a manner that does not contribute to additional environmental, socio-economic, and cultural degradation.

Today we are witnessing, across Canada, a shift in how the public views megadam projects. From Site C in British Columbia, to Keeyask in Manitoba and Muskrat Falls in Labrador, the cost overruns and unnecessary environmental harms are being weighed against the supposedly cheap electricity that they will produce. Indigenous communities have always been voicing their opposition to these projects, but the non-Indigenous public is finally starting to listen. We recommend that all public utilities and Provincial Governments in Canada collaborate meaningfully, in good
faith, with hydro-impacted communities in order to receive consent on all existing and planned energy projects. We also recommend that an immediate moratorium be placed on all megadam construction. This moratorium should be maintained until proper research has been done into all aspects of hydro’s impact on climate change, including greenhouse gas production, release of sequestered carbon, and all other effects of hydro that worsen climate change.

Today, the very waters and lands that gave the region and the original peoples of that land life and meaning have been disrupted and destroyed, displacing many Indigenous communities. In this era of reconciliation, we offer you a brief glimpse of one more history, and one more story, that requires a reckoning and redress of sorts: it is the story of hydropower in Manitoba. Four generations have already been affected by large-scale hydro development. As we find ourselves amid a rapidly evolving climate crisis, the cautionary tales to be gleaned are many, so too are possibilities and opportunities. We need to keep the next generations in mind as we move forward towards a more just and sustainable future.

We thank Senator Galvez for raising this very important issue, and we also thank the Senate. Thank you.

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