Grandstanding? Or grand gesture?: Victoria takes it up a notch with the push for a class action lawsuit against oil and gas companies, FOCUS Magazine Interview with Judith Lavoie, March/April, 2019.

Stan Bartlett, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, and in an earlier life, past founding president of the Sierra Club of Saskatchewan and board member for Western Canada

What is your view of Victoria council’s decision to explore a class action lawsuit against oil and gas companies?

This action by council is designed more to send a message, rather than achieve a practical result.

The council has the tendency to try and appear to do everything for everyone all of the time. It would do well to focus on its core mandate of running the city and providing better quality services at a reasonable cost to fatigued taxpayers.

Taxpayers didn’t elect council to get embroiled in a class-action lawsuit, with unknown costs and ramifications, at the other end of the world. Taxpayers hired them to pave the potholes in front of their residence and to revive downtown business.

Could it help, is it likely to succeed or is it grandstanding?

A similar campaign in 2017 saw 16 municipalities across BC write letters to the 20 largest fossil fuel companies in the world, requesting them to pay for the impacts of climate change. The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities joined the movement, which was defeated at the UBCM annual meeting last year. For their efforts, there was one public relations response from Shell Canada that came to nothing.

So, how much is it costing taxpayers to track the city’s climate-related costs and legal costs? Could that money be better spent creating another park with lots of carbon syncs in the north part of the city? Could the money be better spent retrofitting city buildings?

Personally, my main civic concern is a dangerous sidewalk – the entire block of Humboldt in front of St. Ann’s Academy – and whether it gets replaced before the city gets sued.

Do oil and gas companies bear some responsibility to pay for costs of climate change?

The more important point is, the City itself bears considerable responsibility for the costs of climate change and its inaction.

For goodness sake, why isn’t there a regional transportation plan for 400,000 people on the South Island? Why weren’t dedicated bus lanes in place 20 years ago? Why hasn’t the city led the charge for an LRT system or alternatives years ago?

Dysfunction-by-the-sea itself – with its 13 municipalities, three electoral districts and one CRD – is a very carbon intensive governance construct. If we were serious about climate change, consolidating five or ten jurisdictions would make the greatest difference.

If so, will this make any difference/bring results?

It will make little difference.

But if council focused on solving Victoria’s climate-change and environmental challenges it most certainly would make a difference.

An accelerated infrastructure renewal program in the City – hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent – would benefit the environment.

Why doesn’t the city lead a regional initiative to join the Big City Mayors’ Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities? Because there are 13 fiefdoms in the region, Victoria is considered too small to be a member and so forfeits a voice at a federal level and any action on climate change.

What do you think of the $540,000 earmarked for climate change initiatives. Most going to staff costs and program development – is that appropriate use of the money?

Sure such measures as a building-retrofit program, an oil-heat elimination program and transit improvements may have merit.

But would these programs be better managed and have more impact if the provincial or federal government took the lead? Why isn’t that money going to the CRD where it can have impact on the entire region?

3 thoughts on “Focus on core mandate of running the city”
  1. For those who still believe that human activities producing carbon dioxide is responsible for global warming, or climate change of any sort, consider that government action(s) will have a negligible effect on our climate, but such action(s) will certainly have the public sector’s desired effect: increased tax revenues.
    From the Global Warming Project of 2007 signed by over 30,000 American scientists, some 9,000 of whom with doctorate degrees, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane gas, or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate.”
    Those who continue to focus on global warming will be ill-prepared for global cooling, a trend which is now underway as the sun is into its low energy phase.

  2. I find it odd that ostensibly intelligent people think there is a legal case to be made against those who provide a product that consumers need or want. The oil and gas companies don’t force anyone to buy their products.

    Maybe there is a case for going after companies that generate electricity using fossil fuels. Many electric utilities build dams for the same purpose … why not go after them as well?

    I don’t see much evidence that consumers are cutting back on traveling/buying/eating/procreating because of how it might be affecting the environment. Imagine the screaming we would hear if our high consumption lives were interfered with in any way.

    The problem with many of today’s politician is that they seem to think that day to day issues like sewers, sidewalks, etc are boring, everyday matters and as such don’t deserve consideration. Much better to signal how virtuous they are in attempting to solve a problem countries haven’t been able to tackle effectively.

    Pedantically: “carbon syncs” should be “carbon sinks”.

  3. If the CRD Directors, Councillors and Mayors are serious about ending fossil fuel usage and oil pipelines then they should put a Motion forward to remove all Gas and Oil stocks/shares from the Provincial and Municipal Pension Funds. Norway is about to divest of a trillion dollars in their gas and oil portfolios with the intention of investing clean renewables like solar, wind and geothermal energy.

    Local politicians should lead by purchasing electric vehicles or using their discounted Transit passes.

    It’s also hypocritical to be allowing an “Organized Criminal” company like SNC -Lavalin to be building the pipelines. They have been found guilty of spending multimillions of $ in bribery … therefore using investor and taxpayers money to further their noncarbon emission facade.

    The 9,000 SNC-Lavalin jobs will not be lost. They will just be replaced by a company that is honest and transparent.
    Also, the politicians could demonstrate integrity by replacing the word JOBS with the word VOTES.
    The corporate media newspaper headlines (now supported by taxpayers) would honestly write that the federal liberals are worried about losing 9,000+ Votes.
    If the Feds were worried about jobs they would not have cancelled the Energy East pipeline through Quebec. Canadians could then refine our oil on Canadian soil and act responsibly toward the climate change.
    Eastern votes matter, Western votes do not!

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