Saanich will send a “climate accountability letter” to 20 corporations “asking them to be accountable for the harm caused to that community by their operations and products.”
Specifically, the letter asks companies to pay for costs that climate change has caused. But if council members endorsed the letter unanimously, some openly questioned its efficacy. Others wondered whether Saanich runs the risk of attacking companies that had previously supported Saanich including its efforts to become more sustainable, potentially damaging relations between Saanich and the corporate community.
Coun. Colin Plant fell into the first category. “I struggle with this,” said Plant. “We are going to be the ones, who will end up paying for climate change. We all will be and the infrastructure in Saanich will be paid for by people in this room. So I am empathetic to this letter going forward.” Yet Plant also sounded a notion of caution. “I’m in favour of this, but I am also very pragmatic,” he said. “There is no teeth to this. This is a gesture.”
Coun. Susan Brice fell into the second category. “When you stand on the moral high ground, you have to be very careful that you do it with clean hands,” she said. Specifically, she proposed an amendment that would have seen staff acknowledge previous support from companies subject to the letter. “If it were up me, and I would be writing the letters, and if I had one to [Fortis B.C.], the wording would be quite different,” she said. “That would just be common sense.”
She made that comment after Coun. Leif Wergeland had questioned her proposed amendment.
“Anyone who has given a grant or received a grant from an oil company, we would not be asking them to contribute money to this fund that we are talking about tonight?” he asked.
Brice’s motion, however, failed with acting mayor Dean Murdock and Wergeland joining Couns. Judy Brownoff and Fred Haynes in opposition. Brice then later voted in favour of the final letter, which Saanich will share with provincial, federal and other appropriate authorities.
“I appreciate the intent to clarify and be respectful, but I think that we are dealing with much a broader question of implications that is far beyond the much appreciated contribution from some of those companies,” said Murdock. “The letters are intending to speak to a much broader issue and I don’t think there would be much offense taken if council were to express that broader sentiment on behalf of Saanich residents.”
Council approved the letter following a recommendation from Saanich’s environment and natural areas advisory committee and hearing from Andrew Gage, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law.
The organization is currently asking organizations of various sizes and kinds to send out of those letter and Saanich is now the second municipality community after the District of Highlands to endorse such a letter.
“Those impacts are only going to get worse, and right now, the assumption is that it is our communities and our taxpayers, who are going to pay the full cost of preparing for climate impacts,” said Gage during his presentation to council. “That is what gives you the jurisdiction, and we suggest, the obligation to talk about the fair share of fossil fuel companies paying those costs.”
Brownoff acknowledged the limits of the letter, but stressed its symbolic value. “Will the oil companies write us a cheque?” she asked. “That’d would be lovely. But there is a lot of lobbying from other jurisdictions as well. The City of Victoria is bringing it forward, so it is a positive move forward, just like the [anti-tobacco] movement.”