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Activists rally in Quebec City, calling for climate action ahead of premiers’ meeting

People protest against climate change during a demonstration in Quebec City April 11, 2015. The banner reads: "Yes to climate, No to tar sands."

MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS

Thousands of climate change activists snaked through the streets of Quebec City on Saturday to demand action from Canadian premiers who are in town to discuss environmental issues next week.

The crowd at the Act on Climate Change march included representatives from First Nations, environmental activists and political groups, said journalist Yasmine Hassan, who was there covering the event for Ricochet. "It was very festive. There were children, there were adults, there were older people, there was every possible person you could think of, from all walks of life."

The organizers aimed to press provincial and territorial leaders to turn the tide on oil sands expansion and the corresponding development of pipelines.

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"They were just really, really there to send a message to get the premiers to focus on climate because it is an important thing to focus on and it's just not on the political agenda right now," said Ms. Hassan.

Red-clad protestors formed a thermometer to send a message about climate change. Meanwhile, #ActionClimat was trending on Twitter.

Premiers from across Canada are set to hold a summit on Tuesday to discuss what role provinces can play leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

At their last meeting in January, the provinces said they were making headway on the so-called Canadian Energy Strategy, an initiative involving all 13 premiers that is centred on climate change and clean energy. They've committed to adopting it later this year.

They also discussed TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline — a $12-billion project that would carry oil from the western provinces to New Brunswick by using a repurposed natural gas pipeline and building an extension to connect it to the East Coast.

The completion date was extended this month to 2020 after the company called off plans to build a marine terminal in Cacouna, Que.

Saturday's demonstration urged premiers to take a firmer stand on projects like Energy East that environmentalists say will facilitate expansion of the oil sands.

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"You can either protect our climate or you can develop the tarsands, but you cannot do both at the same time," said Karel Mayrand, Quebec director of the David Suzuki Foundation.

"We're worried that premiers will meet and say yes to protecting our climate and, at the same time, yes to oil infrastructure such as pipelines and expanding oilsands production."

Adam Scott of Environmental Defence said success will be defined by getting away from a patchwork of provincial policies and setting common goals. They could even agree to reduce their emissions so the country's overall carbon budget is actually met.

But getting there without federal involvement in co-ordinating and setting the national agenda will be challenging, said Mr. Scott. Ottawa has promised repeatedly to take action, set targets and then has failed to actually move forward, he added.

"We can't see effective climate action in Canada without the federal government," said Mr. Scott.

Organizers of the Quebec march said Quebec Police estimated over 25,000 people marched to the National Assembly of Quebec, though that figure could not be confirmed. Environmental Defence Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace were among the coalition groups that organized the event.

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"This was really bringing together all of Quebec," said Ms. Hassan, the journalist. "I mean, just talking to the crowd here there were people here from various parts of the province."

Solidarity protests also took place in Halifax, Vancouver and parts of Ontario.

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