The 2014 Peoples’ Social Forum will take place from August 21 to 24 this summer in Ottawa. The first ever pan-Canadian social forum is expected to draw some 10 000 participants from all over the country, with specific representation from English and French Canadians, as well as First Nations communities. According to its website, the Peoples’ Social Forum is a critical public space aimed at fostering activist involvement of individuals and civil society organizations that want to transform Canada as it exists today. It is intended as a space for social movements to meet and converge, for the free expression of alternative ideas and grassroots exchanges and for artistic manifestations reflecting a diversity of demands and aspirations.
Several public consultations were held leading up to the Forum in order to establish themes that will be treated specifically over the four-day event. Of the sixteen themes that have been agreed upon, climate seems to be an issue that links them all together. This is due in part to the fact that as an international community we have crossed the threshold from climate change as a mere possibility or hypothetical endpoint that needs to be addressed in order to be averted, toward a real-time global condition that needs to be managed with growing desperation. With regard to the Canadian context, climate change is an important issue given the Harper Conservatives’ aspirations to establish Canada as a global energy superpower through intensive exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.
While these aspirations certainly entail environmental and climate-related consequences, they have also enabled shortsighted governance, the erosion of Canadian democracy, economic instability, and in the eyes of many critically thinking Canadians, pose serious risks to human security and rights in Canada. Just because the majority of Canadians have not seen the massive leaky toxic tailings lakes, have not touched the world’s dirtiest oil, or are not aware of the various violations of land rights and treaties inherent in bitumen exploitation, does not mean that we are not all adversely affected by the world’s biggest energy project.
If the decision-makers whom we have empowered cannot or refuse to serve collective Canadian interests, then it is up to us to protect such interests and hold those who prioritize individual and corporate interests accountable for their misconduct. In this sense, the Peoples’ Social Forum provides an inclusive and horizontal political forum that promotes dialogue and encourages progress toward resolving Canadian problems in a manner that benefits Canadians as a collective. Stephen Harper has gone to great lengths to marginalize and silence civil society, climate scientists, environmental groups, and political activists alike, but the Peoples’ Social Forum serves as a reminder that these voices have not been silenced altogether and that Canadians themselves are the true agenda-setters, regardless of government intent.
It is important to keep political and social dialogue open and accessible to all Canadians, even if that means asking hard questions and making bold statements that may be brushed off as being radical or controversial. If you have questions about the direction in which Canada is moving, or suggestions for what ought to be done to ensure that we are all on the same page with regard to what progress actually means, come join the dialogue from August 21 to 24.
For more information, please visit http://www.peoplessocialforum.org/