Toronto: “Darker Politics: Democracies, Labour Rights and Climate Change in 2017”

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In October 2015 Canadians swept the climate-hostile Harper government from office, replacing it with a Liberal government promising creativity and ambition, real action to slow global warming and the inclusion of the labour movement in green transitions. In December, the Paris Agreement and its burst of optimism promised global collaboration to slow global warming. Between October and December 2015 the international spread of environmental legal activism–begun in the Netherlands, spreading to Belgium, Norway, Pakistan and the US—triggered a Canadian discussion. ACW’s Public Panel brought Roger Cox, the Dutch lawyer who led the successful court case forcing the Dutch government to speed up its GHG reduction, to Toronto where he spoke to a diverse audience of more than 100. In discussions following the Panel, Canadian union leaders, labour and human rights lawyers and environmental groups explored with Cox the role for unions in leading environmental legal activism. 2015 and early 2016 was a springtime of Canadian creativity and confidence.

What a difference a year makes! The world is turning darker. From the shock of Brexit to the American election and Trump’s alt-right political choices in his first 100 days, racist nationalism is spreading, fostering the growth of extreme-right political parties and private militias, legitimating attacks on women, refugees, minorities, and gay men—and on democracies. Russia, flexing its revanchist muscles, dismisses global warming, hacks French, German, American political parties, invests in false news, undermines the EU, renders the Syrian tragedy unsolvable. Whatever you call it, racist nationalism is spreading inTurkey, Russia, Poland, Hungary, France, parts of Germany, the UK and the US.

The winds of the 1930s are stirring again. For Canada in 2017, this poses three sets of challenges:

  • How do we protect Canadian democracy in the Trump era? What can we learn from history and other countries? How better can Canada respond to the refugee crisis?
  • We are committed to reducing the GHGs we produce. In the face of Trump’s destruction of climate strategy how do we fulfill our promise? What alliances for Canadian and American unions, in their internal and external struggles to play a significant role in slowing climate warming?
  • Trump promises to bring the jobs back home. But whose jobs is he bringing back to the US? At what social and economic cost to Canada? What options and actions for labour unions to avoid competitive isolation while protecting their members? The Trump ascendancy is committed to a race to the bottom. Will shredding labour rights and climate strategies spread to other countries?

The three speakers on the 2017 Darker Politics panel will take up the questions of democratic options in a volatile world; labour and climate change: the impact of Trump’s America; and softwood lumber, Canada and trade.

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, Principal Investigator, ACW.




Tony Burman, Ryerson University and Toronto Star, “Democracy Under Threat” 

Tony is world affairs columnist with the Toronto Star. He is former head of CBC News in Canada and of Al Jazeera English in Qatar – responsible for their TV, radio and online journalism. For more than 30 years, he was an award-winning news and documentary producer at the CBC, including seven years as its Editor-in-Chief. He was Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at Ryerson University between 2010-16.


Elaine Bernard

Dr. Elaine Bernard, Harvard University, “Trump’s War on Workers and the Environment”

Elaine is a Senior Research Associate at the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, and previously served as its Executive Director. Elaine works with unions and labour federations around the globe, and has conducted courses on a wide variety of topics for unions, community groups, universities and government departments. Her current research and teaching interests are in the areas of international comparative labor movements and the role of unions in promoting civil society, democracy and sustainable development. Within ACW Elaine plays a pivotal role in developing the Green Workplaces training. As well, she is a member of the Manufacturing, Services and International Policy working groups, and she is a member of the steering committee.


Jim Chorostecki

Jim Chorostecki, British Columbia Federation of Labour, “The Softwood Lumber Dispute is the Hatfields vs. McCoys Feud Without the Guns, So Far.” 

Jim has been the Executive Director at B.C. Federation of Labour since 2010. In this role Jim has been responsible for initiating and overseeing a number of important projects that have been attempting to bring together various stakeholders to work together to solve the climate change crisis. Prior to this, he held positions at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Union of Postal Communication Employees and within the Canadian federal government. Jim is a former board member of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in BC and is currently an advisor on the CCPA Good Economy Project. Within the ACW grant Jim is the Co-lead for the Manufacturing working group and a member of the steering committee.


Larry Brown

Larry Brown, National Union of Public and General Employees, moderator

With degrees in political science and law, Larry, President of Canada’s second largest union, has a wide range of experience in government, pension fund management, public administration, labour relations, teaching and legal issues. He has written and spoken extensively about public finances, debt and deficit issues, the changes in federal provincial financing, public sector restructuring and the resulting changes in the economic and political structures of Canada that have occurred in the last decade. As an elected Officer of the National Union of Public and General Employees for over 25 years, Larry has extensive experience overseeing NUPGE’s policy on environmental issues. Larry is the Interim Leader of ACW’s Environmental Law and Labour Law research group.


“Darker Politics: Democracies, Labour Rights and Climate Change”
Friday, 26 May 2017
4:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Innis Town Hall Theatre
2 Sussex Avenue
Toronto, ON  M5S 1J5

Free admission

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Darker Politics Panel is organized by Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, a research programme of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Organisational members of ACW include York University, the Canadian Labour Congress, and 22 organisations in Canada, US, UK, EU.