Protesters greet first ministers meeting in Montreal

A day of factious meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, provincial Premiers, and territorial leaders was marked by a string of protests outside the downtown Marriott Hotel, where the first ministers meeting convened.

Before the crack of dawn, Greenpeace activists unfurled banners and held up posters, demanding action on climate change be central to the day’s discussions.

“This is the issue of our time,” said Keith Stewart, spokesperson for Greenpeace. “If you care about the future of your kids, if you care about your own health, you need to be pushing your leaders for action on climate change.”

Close to 100 protesters stood gathered near the entrance to the hotel to greet the ministers as they arrived. They sang chants denouncing the Trans Mountain pipeline, and urged passersby to help “sauve la planète.”

“(Canadians) care about climate change,” Stewart said. “They’re willing to come out first thing in the morning on a freezing cold day to say we need action, and we need it now.”

Close to 100 Greenpeace activists are parked outside the downtown Marriott hotel, where the first ministers are meeting. Calling for climate change to be part of all of today’s discussions.They say they are not here to disrupt, but to show that Canadians are watching #CJAD800 pic.twitter.com/QAL75cS4mZ

— Matt Gilmour (@MGilmourMTL) December 7, 2018

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Ontario Premier Doug Ford initially expressed frustration about the day’s agenda, complaining there would not be enough time dedicated to helping the oil industry, and re-considering the federal carbon tax.

Premier Ford even threatened to walk away from the talks if his demands weren’t met.

This drew the ire of protesters.

“What they really need to be talking about is how we make the transition to a green economy that protects communities and workers,” Stewart said, adding that the burden should not fall solely on oil patch workers and the province of Alberta.

Climate talk quickly changed to calls for more protections for Quebec dairy producers, as farmers staged a dramatic protest that closed downtown streets and slowed traffic along Rene-Levesque for a time.

A convoy of tractors, draped with banners and flags, crossed over the Jacques-Cartier Bridge just after 10am, and with a police escort, paraded through downtown Montreal en route to the Marriott hotel.

“The message today is simple,” said Jacques Lefebvre, CEO of the Dairy Producers of Canada. “Enough is enough. Stop using the dairy sector as a bargaining chip in your trade agreements.”

Here’s something you don’t see everyday. Convoy of tractors on their way downtown to the first ministers meeting via @pontJCBridge staging dramatic protest in support of Quebec dairy farmers #CJAD800 pic.twitter.com/S0FEfnPo6B

— Matt Gilmour (@MGilmourMTL) December 7, 2018

Premier Francois Legault has said that he will act as a voice for the dairy producers, who will meet with federal negotiators next week to discuss compensation following the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), which will take the place of NAFTA.

“We’re surely going to hold him to his word,” Lefebvre said.

The USMCA comes on the heals of a slew of other international trade agreements that have on average, hurt dairy farmers to the tune of $40,000 per year, according to the Quebec Dairy Producers Association.

“The government, every single opportunity it has, concedes part of my livelihood to other countries, and as of late, the United States and Mexico,” Lefebvre said. "Enough is enough."

Both protests stayed at a distance from the entrance to the hotel. There were no incidents between protesters and either police or security.