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Counterpoint: Small cities can lead the way

As individuals watch the world suffer wars, floods, fires, hurricanes and heartbreaking stories of refugees, it is easy to feel completely powerless.

As individuals watch the world suffer wars, floods, fires, hurricanes and heartbreaking stories of refugees, it is easy to feel completely powerless.

How can we possibly make a difference on the huge issues facing humanity: climate change, increasing inequality, unprecedented levels of economic insecurity and the threat of nuclear war.

The provincial and federal levels of politics have largely failed us. While there is talk about addressing climate change and inequality, there are major barriers to any political party seriously dealing with these challenges. If political parties propose radical solutions they are attacked by mainstream corporate media and fear being marginalized, which is why major efforts to mobilize the public to act on these crises often come from elsewhere.

The Occupy movement of a few years back is one example. It successfully attracted hundreds of thousands of people across the developed world by occupying public spaces, sometimes for weeks or months. It was enormously inspiring and put the issue of inequality on the agenda.

A more recent effort to inspire and mobilize people around climate change and inequality is the Leap Manifesto, formed by representatives from Canada’s indigenous rights, social and food justice, environmental, faith-based and labour movements. It also started off principally as an inspirational call to action. But action where? And how could it actually change things?

After mixed results trying to influence the federal New Democratic Party, Leap is now looking at making a difference at the municipal level. This makes a lot of sense because cities across the world are actually taking the lead on climate issues.

Leap’s message is: Small steps will no longer get us to where we need to go, so we need to leap.

That urgency means mobilizing municipalities that, even with limited powers, can lead by example by joining other cities to lobby senior levels of government.

Leap activists in Saanich have gone through the 15 demands of the manifesto, identified where that city can act and are lobbying their city council on numerous issues. Leap organizations in Victoria and Thunder Bay, Ontario, are also bringing attention to Leap’s goals.

The Leap manifesto promotes the concept of climate justice in recognition that inequality and climate issues are intertwined. So, while cities have no authority to raise minimum wages, they can commit themselves to paying a living wage. Vancouver, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam and Quesnel have all committed to paying at least their regional living wage for any work done in their cities.

Cities are also being encouraged to force corporations to pay for the pollution they cause.

Vancouver-based West Coast Environmental Law has invited all BC municipalities to send letters to the 20 largest fossil-fuel companies and demand they pay their share of municipalities’ climate costs. City of Colwood became the fourth southern Vancouver Island community to demand accountability from fossil-fuel companies, joining Victoria, Saanich and Highlands this week.

Companies that have made billions while creating these crises should be put on notice that we expect them to pay for dealing with it.

Murray Dobbin is a Powell River freelance writer and social commentator.

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