Advocacy for radicalism | The Press

Despite the approval of the Bay du Nord oil project, Steven Guilbeault must not resign, believes his ex-activist partner Hugo Séguin.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

“If the planet is burning, we don’t want to take firefighters away!” You have to add more. With more environmentalists in the Council of Ministers, the decision would have been different…”

In a video interview, Mr. Séguin rubs his face with the palm of one hand. His eyes are red. Despite the launch of his book, it was not a very good week.


Hugo Séguin, environmental activist and ex-partner of Steven Guilbeault

While the IPCC report showed the way forward to tackle the climate crisis, the Trudeau government approved this oil extraction off Newfoundland. Fragile hope turned to helpless anger.

“It’s a very, very bad decision, protests the essayist. The timing couldn’t have been worse. As the UN Secretary General said, launching new fossil fuel projects is madness. »

On social networks, activists tear each other apart. In the eyes of many, the Minister of the Environment has become a traitor.

To understand Mr. Guilbeault’s approach and the frustration it arouses, Hugo Séguin’s book is essential.

The title sums up the vast program: Letter to impatient ecologists and to those who find that they are exaggerating. It is both an attempt at reconciliation and a call to action.

A former political adviser to the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois, an activist at Équiterre and now a university researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research at the University of Montreal, he knows the environment inside and out.

It divides environmentalists into two camps: those who mobilize with a radical discourse and those who invest places of power to change the system from within. Even if these people don’t always like each other, they complement each other. The diehards create a balance of power, while the others convert these ideas into workable policies, with the frustrating compromises that entails.

Mr. Séguin gives the example of Quebec’s first plan against climate change, in 2006.

Steven Guilbeault then works for Greenpeace. He is at Équiterre. Behind the scenes, they warn the Charest government: if you table a simple “strategy” without concrete measures, we will “rip your head off”…

An action plan is finally adopted with the promise of a carbon market.

During the official announcement, an activist denounces the shortcomings of the plan. Mr. Guilbeault then comes forward to the microphone. Officials are nervous. He said, “I…congratulations! »

Their philosophy was to criticize mistakes, but to highlight every good move, to inspire elected officials to do more.

“Steven has not changed, basically, says Hugo Séguin. He remains very pragmatic. Being right alone in his living room doesn’t interest him. The important thing for him is to obtain gains, even imperfect ones. »

We suspect that Mr. Guilbeault did not want Bay du Nord, a project evaluated according to Stephen Harper’s old environmental law and which will threaten marine ecosystems while adding to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Justin Trudeau caved to arguments from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Newfoundland minister, her personal friend Seamus O’Regan.

The story of the Trans Mountain pipeline is repeating itself…

In order not to become a green surety, Mr. Guilbeault will have to obtain results. That is a measurable reduction in GHG emissions. And for that, believes Hugo Séguin, pragmatism has reached its limits.

For a long time, Mr. Séguin repeated that politics was “the art of the possible”. He believed in the approach of small steps.

“It took me a while to understand that it wasn’t enough,” he admits.

According to him, it is time for radicalism. His essay, moreover, rehabilitates the term.

In partisan politics, “radical” is synonymous with “dangerous” or “illegitimate”. Hugo Séguin returns to the etymology of the word. A solution is radical when it attacks the root of the problem. When she tears it off to build something else.

Yesterday’s radical idea often becomes tomorrow’s common sense.

As an employee of Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard in the 1990s, he considered gay marriage “too radical” to be accepted by the population. Two decades later, he was married to his spouse.

In 2014, a common front of former politicians and business leaders signed a manifesto for Quebec to exploit its oil. The caquists agreed. But a few weeks ago, the Legault government banned this adventure forever, and there was consensus.

Hugo Séguin notes that the environmental movement is in its third phase.

The first was that of virtue. Governments were happy, for example, to buy hybrid vehicles for their civil servants.

The second was that of incentives. A few sticks, but mostly carrots, such as rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles.

The third, which unfolds too slowly, is that of constraint. “A tax of a few cents on petrol has almost no impact. The problem must be eliminated by banning the sale of these vehicles [ce sera fait en 2035]. »

Mr. Guilbeault’s climate plan, unveiled at the end of March, has a “potential for radicalism”, believes Mr. Séguin. In particular, it would reduce methane emissions by 75% by 2030 and would cap oil and gas emissions in the short term and then reduce them. ” This is unheard of. The idea is good, but the mechanism has not yet been found. Everything will depend on the slope. It will have to come down soon, and quickly. »

A few days ago, Mr. Guilbeault warned Suncor that his proposed expansion of the Base mine was incompatible with the target for GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector – a 31% reduction by 2030 compared to compared to the 2005 level.

This announced blocking constitutes a precedent, rejoices Mr. Séguin. But he proposes to go even further. Resources are not infinite, and technology is not advancing fast enough. He therefore proposes to also cut demand. At the root.

Hugo Séguin compares radicalism to innovation. It’s like a laboratory of ideas. It requires citizens who listen to their opponents and committed educators.

In both cases, Mr. Séguin is worried. Too many activists confine themselves to an anti-system posture. They don’t try to figure out how politics works. They don’t even believe it anymore.

The book gives the example of Catherine Dorion, who wrote about the student spring that the movement was so beautiful that it was self-sufficient.

It is easy to close in on one’s tribe, to remain in the militant inter-self by comforting oneself in one’s role of tragic resistance fighter, misunderstood lucid. But if environmentalists stop talking to people who don’t think like them and divest from politics, they’ll leave it to those who are fine with the status quo.

Hugo Séguin himself admits that he sometimes wants to “get into a terrible depression” or “go to the party shouting: “Fuck all!” »

“Anger is justified and it is necessary,” he insists. It is a wonderful source of energy. But you have to harness it for it to lead somewhere. »

In his book, he returns to the resignation in 2018 of the former Minister of Energy Transition of France Nicolas Hulot. “On all subjects, I was moving forward on my own,” lamented the ecologist.

This is precisely what Hugo Séguin fears. “I hope that a new generation will come as reinforcements in politics. And, yes, with radical ideas. »

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