Why 'Slacktivism' Matters

This is a guest post by Tania Lown-Hecht from the Outdoor Alliance.

In the last decade, social media has transformed how people relate to each other and the rest of the world. For people who experienced their adolescence before the Internet, this digital world can sometimes seem like a simulacrum of the “real thing.” Most of us have heard complaints about “slacktivism” on our social media feeds, the phenomenon where people post about advocacy issues they care about on social media.

Critics of slacktivism believe that social media posts amount to little more than making the poster feel briefly good about him or herself. While I initially bristled at the idea that social media advocacy could be effective, over the past year I’ve fallen in line with my millennial brethren. Here are five pieces of evidence that “slacktivism” is anything but slacking — and that we should all be using this low-investment, high-yield form of engagement to get what we want from policymakers.

Why Wasn't Climate a Defining Canadian Election Issue?

This article originally appeared on Climate Access.

Those who work on climate change were both chuffed and chagrined by its role in Canada’s federal election campaign, which peaked last week with the victory of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and defeat of Conservative incumbent Stephen Harper.

The environment” — a catch-all concept that often encompasses concern about climate change — consistently ranked close to economy and healthcare on voters' list of top priorities. Oilsands and climate change issues took up nearly a quarter of the first leaders debate, commanding more than twice the airtime they did in 2011. Several media outlets ran editorials calling on all parties to take a strong stance on reducing GHG emissions or put a price on carbon.

To quote professor and commentator George Hoberg, “energy and environmental issues have become central to Canadian electoral politics.”

Despite all of this, climate change didn’t have a significant impact on the election’s outcome. Fundamentally this was a campaign about values where action on global warming was bundled into a broader set of aspirations and ideas that Canadians said yes to on October 19th. 

The Case for Hope after Harper

This article originally appeared on Alternatives Journal.

What is it about activists that they can’t even be optimistic for one day after a whole decade?” 

The disgust and disappointment on my 16 year olds face is somewhat heartbreaking as he pours cereal the morning after the Canadian election and surfs the comments on my Facebook page. I can only shake my head sadly and agree with him. 

Wouldn’t it be great to be fueled by hope instead of fear as the late Jack Layton urged us in his letter to the nation? For just a minute could we not take a deep breath and focus on all the things that we know will now change?

My sons have never known a Canada that was not under Stephen Harper's thumb. For the last decade they have listened to their parents shock and outrage over the weakening of our environmental laws, the lack of transparency, the erosion of democracy, the muzzling of scientists, the attack on environmental groups, the disregard for Canada’s constitution.

Along the way we tried to keep hope alive. We painted a picture for them of a Canada that valued evidence based policy. A Canada that led on the world stage to create critical international agreements like the Montreal Protocol. We talked about how lucky we are to live in a democracy and how important it was for us to participate, to organize and to vote. 

Together we watched the election results come in from coast to coast and I watched the hope and optimism on my sons face as he listened to Justin Trudeau’s acceptance speech. “Sunny ways!” We all yelled, half-hysterical and grinning ear to ear. “To the end of the Harper Era!” We cheered as we raised a glass in jubilant toast. 

Our exuberance made the next mornings conversation all that more painful. “Is he really no different?” “Why can’t people ever be hopeful?”

Why not indeed. 

Margaret Atwood, Stephen Lewis Join Coalition Calling on Canada’s Next Government to Protect Dissent and Democracy

Attacks on civil liberties, the right to protest, freedom of information and democracy must be put to an end by Canada’s next government, according to a group of organizations called the Voices-Voix Coalition.

Famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, former Canadian ambassador Stephen Lewis and former federal justice minister Irwin Colter are backing the demand, saying Canadians have faced an unacceptable erosion of their democratic rights in recent years.

We have been witness to a fundamental shift in the tone and tactics of the federal government, moving to shut down debate and dissent,” Atwood said.

We need to ensure that these actions — from defunding of women's organizations, to limits on free expression found in laws like Bill C-51 — do not become the new normal.”

New Report Shows “Systematic Dismantling” of Canada’s Environmental Laws Under Conservative Government

A new report released Wednesday chronicles the changes made to Canada’s environmental laws under the federal Conservatives since they formed government in 2011.

The report, released by West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, highlights “the repeal or amendment of most of Canada’s foundational environmental laws since 2011” and suggests many of the changes were a “gift to industry.”

The record suggests that industry lobbied hard for removing environmental protections that it believed were impeding business,” the report states.

Major changes include the weakening of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers from protection, as well as changes to the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Weakening of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act means approximately 90 per cent of major industry projects that would have undergone a federal review no longer will, according to the report.

Karine Peloffy, director general of the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, said Canada’s environmental legislation is intrinsically tied into the fabric of the country’s democracy.

Our waters, species, and our very democracy have been put at risk by changes made to our environmental laws since 2011,” Peloffy said.

Voting Should Be About Values That Make Canada Great

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

When my grandparents arrived from Japan in the early 1900s, Canada was far less tolerant than it is today. Women and minorities couldn’t vote, nor could Indigenous people who had lived here from time immemorial. In 1942, the government took away my Canadian-born family’s property and rights and sent us to an internment camp in the B.C. Interior simply because of our ancestry.

Canada has come a long way in my lifetime. Women can vote, as can Asians, other minorities and Indigenous people. Homosexuality is no longer a crime punishable by imprisonment, as it was until 1969. We’ve learned to take better care of each other through rational social programs like universal health care, welfare and unemployment insurance, and a culture of tolerance for the many people from diverse backgrounds who contribute so much to our peace and prosperity — many of whom came here as refugees or immigrants seeking better lives.

Because of my family background and all I’ve witnessed, I take democracy and voting seriously. That’s why I’m dismayed to see the current federal election descend into a divisive discourse that reminds me of all we’ve worked to overcome.

Hello, CSIS!

This post originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative blog.

I should confess: I talk to lamp fixtures.

I wink at ceiling vents, sing to the dashboard in my car, apologize to the people eavesdropping on my phone calls for how boring my conversations are.

I can’t pinpoint when this running joke began, but it was sometime after I left television journalism and began to publicly criticize the government. Now that I work at Dogwood Initiative — where we’ve actually been the target of homeland surveillance — the joke is less funny.

Last week Dogwood organizers testified at a secret hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the “watchdog” tasked with keeping CSIS on a leash. We allege not only that Canada’s spy service broke the law by gathering information on peaceful civilians inside Canada, but that government spying has put a chill on democratic participation.

Do you know that feeling, that you’re being watched? It’s like when you park your vehicle in a bad spot and have to walk there after dark. Or you come home after a trip and the door is unlocked. Or you peer into the webcam on your phone or computer and wonder, is anyone there?

Thrown Under the Omnibus: C-51 the Latest in Harper’s Barrage of Sprawling, Undemocratic Bills

In 1982, an omnibus bill proposed by the Pierre Trudeau government provoked such indignation in parliamentarians that the official opposition whip refused to show up in the House of Commons.

Back then the custom was for Parliament to ring noisy “division bells” when opposition whips pulled a no-show and in this case they rang loudly — for two whole weeks.

The noise was so unbearable that parliamentarians were supplied, and this is no joke, with earplugs at the door.

While the division bells no longer ring, the passing of the Harper government’s most recent and certainly most contentious omnibus bill, the anti-terrorism bill C-51, has created a tremendous amount of noise.

Yet the federal Conservatives seem to have found that old pile of earplugs.

Canada Just Got a Democracy Report Card and Our Grade Isn’t Pretty

The Canadian civic-engagement advocacy group Samara just released its first-ever report card on the state of “everyday democracy” across the country. The result? Canada received a disconcerting ‘C’ grade.

What does that mean?

We’re failing on a lot more fronts than just voter turnout, according to Jane Hilderman, Samara Director.

The political process now repels more citizens than it attracts — particularly young Canadians,” she said.

While most evaluations of democracy focus on voter turnout, we need to better assess the relationship between citizens and political leaders beyond a trip to the ballot box every four years.”

Access Denied: Ministry of Environment Vetoes Interview Request on Oilsands Toxins in Animals

Documents obtained by DeSmog Canada reveal that Canada’s Ministry of Environment vetoed an interview request on toxins in fur-bearing animals in the oilsands, even though the federal scientist was “media trained and interested in doing the interview.”

The Environment Canada scientist in question, Philippe Thomas, had asked members of the Alberta Trappers Association to send him samples of fur-bearing animals caught across Alberta in 2012. Thomas needed a broad range of samples to gain deeper insight into the contaminant load in animals living near the oilsands.

In late 2012, DeSmog Canada submitted a request to interview Thomas, and provided several written questions to Environment Canada to review.

Documents obtained via Access to Information legislation show that pre-scripted responses were prepared for Thomas should the interview be approved at the upper levels. The request was approved at the deputy general level, but denied in the office of former Environment Minister Peter Kent.


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