Canada’s fossilized G20 protesters -

Canada’s fossilized G20 protesters

Where were the opponents to Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies?


It’s a good thing for the G20 protesters that the focus has gone all meta and shifted to the realm of civil rights, including the questionable five-metre rule and the behaviour of the police. Because if the attention was on the protesters themselves and their actual agenda, they’d have a lot to answer for.

No, I’m not here to rehash the condemnation of the Black Bloc types who smashed up the city and torched police cars. I’m actually more interested in the ones who were there for the peaceable reason of desiring to influence public policy. What sort of policies were they opposed to? Which ones did they support? It’s surprisingly hard to say. I’ve been trolling through the stories in the aftermath of the summit, and it would appear that most of the protesters had no real clue either.

When a firm agenda was expressed, it tended to be absurdly general: “People not profits.” “Stop the G20”. “Justice Now.” “Animal Rights are Human Rights.” “Free Palestine.” You get the picture. Even the supporters and organizers of the protests seemed less than pleased with the discordant messaging. At one point, in a rally and march held the day after all of the major arrests (on June 28), the Globe’s Anna Mehler Paperny tweeted “The telling moment when Rebick shouts ‘what do we want?’ and everyone shouts something different. (They settle on ‘justice’)”.

Why am I bringing this up, so late to the party? Because the absence of any coherent and informed protest agenda has allowed a great scandal to pass virtually unnoticed. Almost all of the media post-G20 analysis (including that of our own Geddes and Coyne) have zeroed in on Harper’s success in avoiding a bank tax and a getting general commitment to fiscal austerity as the main policy outcome of the G20, along with a tepid endorsement of the $5 billion for maternal health.

Yet the biggest news out of the summit was that Canada successfully resisted pressure (from the U.S., among others) to stop subsidizing fossil fuel production. In a short story published in today’s Citizen, Mike de Souza reports how the Harper government managed to protect “several incentive and subsidy programs for fossil fuels, despite making a G20 pledge to phase them out, according to a leaked document from last month’s conference in Toronto.”  This flies in the face of a Reuters news story that ran during the summit, which claimed that G20 leaders had made a firm pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, following on an earlier G20 commitment made in Pittsburgh last September.

Ok, so how were the protesters supposed to know? After all, the leaked document was an annex, “circulated at the summit” but apparently not made public, in which Canada stated its intention to only review its current subsidies on an ongoing basis. Surely the protesters can’t be blamed for not protesting something they didn’t know about.

Except they could have. Because the same day that Reuters was reporting that the G20 leaders had committed to firm medium-term timelines for phasing out the subsidies, Mike Blanchfield and Heather Scoffield of CP were reporting the exact opposite: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected advice from his officials to eliminate tax incentives for the oil patch on a weekend that saw the world’s most powerful leaders disdain fresh attempts to combat climate change in favour of fighting deepening deficits,” they wrote.

Here’s the really nasty business:

The Department of Finance recommended over the spring that Harper lead by example and get rid of tax incentives that encourage oil and gas production. But documents obtained by The Canadian Press, to be released in conjunction with the final G20 communique on Sunday, show the prime minister opted instead to reiterate actions taken in the past rather than volunteer any additional gestures.

According to the documents, the Canadian “action plan” on fossil fuels consists mainly of phasing out accelerated capital cost allowances for oil sands production — a measure that was first announced a few years ago and put on a faster track in the 2010 budget. “The accelerated CCA for oil sands projects will be phased out over the 2011-2015 period,” says the Canadian plan.

The phase out of the accelerated capital cost allowance was first announced in the 2007 budget and “could be cited as a current action helping to fulfill that commitment,” says a March memorandum prepared for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

This is completely evil on Canada’s part — not just doing the wrong thing, but doing the opposite of the right thing. And it was out there, on the national newswire, while the summit was still going on, and the day before Judy Rebick led the crowd in a game of “let’s play ‘what do we want’”.

Meanwhile, did this specific issue ever get raised by any of the protesters,  before, during, or after the summit? I certainly didn’t hear about it — all I heard about was the three-ring circus, and the various side-issues and non-issues that were being raised.

I fully expect that most people will do their usual shtick of blaming the mainstream media. But the mainstream media did its job.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the protesters paid any attention at all to the actual agenda of these meetings, and took an interest in actual the positions being adopted by the government of Canada?

But that’s too hard. Blaming the cops and “Reclaiming the Streets” is so much more fun.


Canada’s fossilized G20 protesters

  1. "But the mainstream media did its job."

    I don't know about that. I agree protesters were largely incoherent, they always are, but I recall watching a police car burn for at least 30 minutes on a news channel and wondering why they didn't talk to more protesters or show something else.

    Another issue facing protesters was that they were all protesting different things so no one overall message would be appropriate. For all I know, there could have been a small group of people protesting incentives but they were not mentioned because burning police cars are more interesting than policy, apparently.

  2. The facts are not complex. A bunch of idle jugheads who knew full well that they would not see any of the world leaders, created mayhem, laughed at their fellow thugs who destroyed property and just took pictures instead of stopping them.Then they cried police state afterwards. IT WAS ALL SEEN ON TV. Canadians across Canada condemn these goons, the same ones who trashed the Olympics and now demand. an inquiry. They will get their inquiry. Does anybody out there really believe that they will accept the results of such an inquiry? Never. Its a game and they love it and only in Canada. Shameful. We are losing control of our once sacred country to goons.

    • I think we should hire these guys. It's very impressive that a few hundred direct action activists, who have been subject to intense police surveillance, can devise and lead an action plan that circumvents 20K cops. This is a very impressive undertaking. They took great entrepreneurial risk, outpointed their competitors and skated way.

      That's what I see. You need to go find yourself another country to be part of. Maybe Franco's Spain. You don't belong here.

  3. Hey there. I am an anarchist professor and I can help you comprehend why people are doing what they are doing, in as complex and theoretical a way as you can handle. Just drop me an email!

    • Hey Professor: Why not enlighten everyone and save us all the trouble!

    • You are an anaarchist professor? Do get paid for that?

  4. Well Andrew, while I feel the same way you do about the protestors–stupid waste of time that only gave cover for the Blockhead goons–I have an answer to your question. Because people who are protestors also generally have jobs, family, etc. It is not their job to stick fast to the newswire–like those in the media profession might do. No, we rely on nifty things such as daily emails from our preferred news service. Like, for example, Canadian Business (who ran nothing like the story you are talking about even though it would have been of great interest to business, that I saw in the daily email, anyway). But then, I received my daily email today from Canadian Business. Guess what? IT WAS FROM 2007!

    Um, don't you have something to do with Canadian Business magainze?

  5. Expecting principled protests is akin to expecting principled politicians elected by principled voters. Without the voters acting on principle then how can the government or it's naysayers be held to the lofty ideal of standing for something?

  6. But that's too hard. Blaming the cops and “Reclaiming the Streets” is so much more fun.

    … and trashing storefronts, burning police cars, etc etc

  7. Well, isn't that smug.

    Advocates and partisans are generally especially good at policy detail. They would all be happy to find you if you presented yourself in the real world. Certainly, whatever the subject, they can talk circles around you. Since you are evidently unfamiliar with the venue at a public march or demonstration, policy is encapsulated in slogans. In your innocence, this obvious practical requirement has escaped your notice.

    You need to get out more.

  8. Andrew, indeed ANY public subsidy of private business is an evil nasty piece of work. But are you really dissing peaceful-protester human beings who cared enough about something just because (A) it wasn't the same something for all of them, and (B) it wasn't what some smug national business magazine honcho thought they should care about? Would you care to reconsider this bizarre condemnation?

    • MYL, why do you sound so frightfully insightful sometimes? ;)

      • Indeed. On this Comment Section MYL and Berkamp are most lucid and rational.

        C'est le monde à l'envers!

  9. Shorter Potter:

    “Let us not be too hard on G20 summiteers for failing to produce a significant actionable consensus on a single substantive issue despite having blown a cool Canadian billion. Let us rather bash the protestors for failing to find a consensus on a single substantive issue after having spent the weekend on their own dimes”. Astonishing.

    The protestors were virtually all anti-globalisation activists of one sub-group or another, most of whom would no doubt argue that their opposition to the subsidy Potter (justly) execrates would be taken fully for granted by informed observers.

  10. AP, while I generally agree with the end of subsidies, you need to break the G20 out into net oil exporters , and net oil importers. W/O looking, I suspect Canada is alone in the former (couldn't be bothered to check – is Saudi in the G20?), and the majority of the remaining are in the latter. Since "scoop baby scoop" has been the centrepiece of the Alberta PCs (provincial) /Conservative (feds) agendas for ages, so it's not really surprising Harper's reaction. Why are you so surprised? "Ya dance with the one that brung ya".

  11. The mainstream media spent all of Saturday afternoon and evening showing the same old tired video loop of someone climbing a tree with a video camera in hand, someone dancing a jig on the hood and roof of a police car, someone kicking at an already broken window and a protestor jabbing a jousting pole into a line of storm troopers.

    That was what Canadians saw. Oh yeah, and a few people carrying banners protesting something that was never explained to viewers for a few seconds of the coverage. Not exactly balanced coverage but then again, the media often covers only what sells.

    • Before giving a thumbs down to this at leat open the link people. Quite funny. Then maybe you won't want to give a tumbs down any more.

  12. I for one would like to know a bit more about the so-called 'Black Bloc'. They looked well organized. They had nice shoes. They looked… well paid… kinda like … certain 'security contractors' that might, for one reason or another… be at a spectacle like that.

    Police cars… those are expendable– but never underestimate the value of a good riot, or of a provocateur. It– and they– sell agendas.

    • My take is that (1) the do nothin' while the cars burn and the windows break was designed to have undercover cops take pictures of the incidents – even a masked man breaking a window can be analysed and compared with other similar shots. When reasonably identified they can be hauled out and "processed" with proper fiingerprinting etc. (2) the ones corralled on Sunday were picked off one by one and processed to see if they were black bloc. Majority were too stupid to make themselves scarce early enoughto evade that process.

      In other words, aside from,protection the cop enterprise was really about building id'd files fro the next time/riot/G20.

  13. I am a reasonably informed citizen, and I just found out about Canada's contradictory position on fossil fuel subsidies at the G20 just now. Just from this article. I have a hard time buying that the protestors marching were ignorant simply because they never managed to assemble a coherent response to this. The fact that the various desires expressed by the protestors are so disparate is a sign that, no surprise, they find our governments involved in a lot of activities that they dislike! At the current moment in time, it is not as easy for a large civil movement to pinpoint one issue that inspires everyone – it's not like the 1960s were for civil rights or the 1930s were for labour. Our governments are at any given time waging illegal wars, propping up genocidal regimes, facilitating ecological catastrophes, imposing austerity measures that will disproportionately hurt the working class, while bailing out financiers.

    A movement with more coherence would be nice; this might well come to pass eventually. But lately, it seems that the safer position to take in the mainstream media is to stifle in infancy any signs of an active citizenry. Then the exact same media will turn around and bemoan voter apathy. There is no winning when messages are refracted through the lens of the largely corporate-owned, placid, and servile media.

    And it doesn't really seem “balanced” to be just as critical of protestors as of government themselves. When was the last time a group of protestors sent drones to kill civilians, or gave a giant subsidy to Big Oil, or ordered the torture of innocents? The media's #`1 job is keeping a watch on the powers that be; sitting there in judgement of the political actions of the citizenry is not edifying and, I would argue, not particularly useful to the wellbeing of the polity.

    • I only read about it yesterday or a day before via National Newswatch. Unfortunately, the majority of the media headlines on NN are from right wing papers or the Hill Times. How many people in Canada read articles from a variety of newspapers?

      • Agreed, I hardly think this story got the pixels or column inches it deserved. That's all least one redeeming feature of this editorial!

  14. "Meanwhile, did this specific issue ever get raised by any of the protesters, before, during, or after the summit?"

    Andrew, are you really calling out protesters for failing to protest a policy that was publicized in the CP at 9:50pm on the evening the summit ended?

    From the sarcastic tone, ("this is completely evil, blah blah, Judy Rebik…") I can't even tell whether you think this is actually bad policy. Near as I can tell, this whole piece consists of you sticking your tongue out at the protesters.

  15. Thank you Mr Potter for bringing up this issue.

  16. Say what you will about the protesters, but when is the last time anyone has seen so many NDP supporters filled with such passion?

    (Gay Pride Parade doesn't count)

  17. Seems like Potter has been reading the wrong media. Here is Vandana Shiva speaking before the Shout Out for Global Justice, held on the Friday before the G20.

    Oh, by the the way, Massey Hall was sold out that Friday, with people jammed in to hear international thinkers and activists including Pablo Salon and John Hilary talk about the issues that the G20 should have been addressing. But I guess Potter didn't hear about the event, since no mainstream media reported on it. The video of the event is online at:

  18. Andrew, I'm sorry, but that was simply a weak post. The "great scandal" going unnoticed cannot be blamed on 6000 people with homemade signs and dozens of different viewpoints.

    You've managed to unite some fairly partisan commenters here to step forward and argue why your point is invalid. That's a quite the accomplishment.

    IWhile I rarely agree with your viewpoints, your arguements are usually based on informed opinion and fact. This post is an exception.

  19. "While I rarely agree with your viewpoints, your arguements are usually based on informed opinion and fact. This post is an exception"

    You're sure you're not mixing up the Andrews here?

  20. I don't give two farts what protesters did or did not highlight.

    But fossil fuel development is "evil?" Dude, you're off your rocker.

    • Not knowing how to read is evil

  21. Does anyone know where I can find a good primer on these Cdn fossil fuel subsidies? I'm curious about how much are actual cash handouts versus just tax breaks. As well, I'd like to see how the dollars compare to what the Fed & Prov gov'ts take in through our extra taxes on fuel.

  22. Where were the G20 protesters? Arrested. They were not allowed to protest just outside the security fence near the G20 site.

    Did the police do a great job? They destroyed commerce in the downtown for about two weeks. Although I found the Black Bloc vandalism to be disgusting, the police caused more financial hardship for downtown businesses than the Black Bloc.

    The police did a poor job in community policing. When they can scare average citizens away, I know that we must be living in a police state.

  23. Really? Evil? Making unreasonable targets to shut up the eviro-weenies is as Canadian as it gets. What really is EVIL, is lefty, eastern urban dwellers posturing about the badness of the oil sands, while they fill up their lexus's and drive off to their government jobs paid for with oil royalties.

  24. Actually, your research was very shoddy. Did you attend the People's Summit at Ryerson to talk about the People's Accord of Cochabamba as an answer to COP15? Did you attend the Shout Out for Global Justice? Did you speak with hundreds of people with backgrounds in international studies and social policy who attended these educated, pacifist events? And did you walk on the Toxic Tour march with people who have been to the tar sands, and and are experts about the tar sands? If not, keep your hasty judgments to yourself, and do not publish them as fact.

  25. And I think your post particularly infuriates me because I met some of the most informed people I have ever met on all of those marches, and had some of the highest level conversations about social policy I have ever had, and virtually all of these people- many of whom are professors- can think rings around you. Emuchvery one I met knew why they were marching, and in great detail, and much of their concern concentrated on privatization of public services and commodification of natural resources.

  26. Another PATHETIC piece of so called journalism from good ol ' Mac's.
    Where were you when The People's Summit, sponsored by the Council of Canadians was happening that G8/G20 week in Toronto.?
    Did you even know about it?
    Obviously you didn't cover it.
    I am soooo thankful for the internet and as citizens being blessed with,so far, the ability to access independent , alternative media.
    You want to know the issues?
    Do some search on the internet.
    Try Google. Type in Maude Barlow, Vandana Shiva,Naomi Klein to name a few.
    Do Conservatives have all their issues in detail on their ads, their lawn signs, placards?

    • Now, give me a GOOD reason to bring up left wing nuts.

  27. For more info on the People's summit held in TO during the same week as the G/8 G20: try BChannel News and

  28. Rudderless and Rebick. Says it all.

  29. They always said nobody would get any glimpse of G20 people so the rabble could only have come for the free publicity offered by the media?
    If the media hadn't done such good job promoting this rabble rousing event the huge turnout of rabble wouldn't have had to go to such extremes to get their pictures in the paper.
    Next time media, you should hold this event in the lobbies of your own property.

  30. Don't really think it makes a difference anyway. Politicians do not listen to ordinary Canadians!!!!!!!

    Tarred by the same brush

    Seem like this old phrase is taking on more prominence with the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, however, the Canadian Political environment has many of the same symptons.

    What started out with three individuals lying on a Penalty Recommendation Document for punishment to a Canadian citizen, soon involved to their acting Director saying that was OK, as it was part of their job responsibilites. Sure did not make sense to me, since they garnisheed pension funds and the bank took my house for lack of payment. Must of been my fault as I did not have the extra funds in the bank to cover payments while waiting for the Government to right itself. That only took 3 years to resolve ( not even an election cycle, but at the time I did appreciate the cheque, especially after them saying that I owed over $150,000.00 )! I would say that the Acting Director was the first to be "Tarred by the same brush".

    Next on the list would be my constituency member of Parliament ( Colin Carrie representing the Oshawa, Ontario riding ). With investigation he determined that he could not resolve. He was the second to be "Tarred by the same brush".

    Then on our Canadian Political leaders and members of Parliament ( thousands of e-mails forwarded thru the years ). They chose not to participate or even comment! I quess you could consider them also to be "Tarred by the same brush".

    It should be mentioned that physical proof of these acts made no difference at all, as you know members of our Government do not have to abide by the rules of law that have been set up for normal Canadian citizens.

  31. Toronto Resident wrote:
    "Actually, your research was very shoddy. Did you attend the People's Summit at Ryerson to talk about the People's Accord of Cochabamba as an answer to COP15? Did you attend the Shout Out for Global Justice? Did you speak with hundreds of people with backgrounds in international studies and social policy who attended these educated, pacifist events? And did you walk on the Toxic Tour march with people who have been to the tar sands, and and are experts about the tar sands? If not, keep your hasty judgments to yourself, and do not publish them as fact. "

    Sorry TO resident…..most of the folks who think the protestors are a bunch of whinny pussies were not at the protest. They were too busy working, paying taxes, and NOT DESTROYING PRIVATE PROPERTY….to attend the aforementioned forums you mention.

    You on the other hand…..seemed to have a great time. By the way…..were you dressed in black?

  32. To the author:

    > … I've been trolling through the stories ….

    Are you sure you didn't mean 'trawling'? Because 'trolling' generally means being a troll.

  33. I wonder what message would be conveyed if no one showed up to protest?