Two associations representing business interests in the Canadian city of Victoria recently wrote letters to the city’s mayor, Lisa Helps, asking her to back away from a resolution calling for a class-action lawsuit from local municipalities demanding payment for climate related damages to local infrastructure. The Victoria lawsuit would have many hurdles to clear and a successful outcome would be unprecedented, similar to the lawsuits filed by local and state governments in the United States.
The letters show that Victoria’s business community is concerned that the city will suffer the same severe backlash that occurred in Whistler. When the Mayor and city council of Whistler sent a letter to a Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) asking for climate related damages, the reaction from the Albertan oilpatch was swift. The energy sector even pulled out of an investor conference and the mayor was forced to issue an apology on Facebook.
Like Whistler, Victoria’s economy also depends heavily on tourism from their oil and gas rich neighbors in Alberta and northern British Columbia.
A letter from the Victoria Chamber of Commerce states:
“Not only will legal action likely be rejected by the courts, but the confrontational approach alienates the very Canadians we need to help create a low carbon society. Climate change is not about us vs. them.” (emphasis added)
A separate letter from the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria echoed the Chamber’s sentiment:
“…we do not think that it is constructive to upset the entire province of Alberta and for that matter, Northern BC and Saskatchewan with a class action lawsuit that virtually has no chance of success. The scheme is nebulous and has an existing ‘no case’ precedent with the courts in New York.”
“As you may know, Alberta is a secondary market for Victoria and Vancouver Island that includes leisure, corporate, and conference business. Headlines like ‘City of Victoria recommends class-action lawsuit against the oil and gas industry’ does nothing to promote Victoria to our important neighbour to the East.” (emphasis added)
Albertans are certainly keeping a careful eye on Victoria’s actions. After Victoria passed its resolution, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced that he intended to send a letter to Mayor Helps opposing Victoria’s resolution in late January. Calgary Councilor Ward Sutherland also extended an invitation for Mayor Helps to visit Calgary to learn more about how industry-driven innovation in Alberta will reduce emissions. Helps is now slated to visit Calgary this spring.
Victoria Climate Litigation Resolution
An association that represents all municipalities in the province, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), will vote on Victoria’s resolution in July at its annual convention if it passes the regional association of municipalities, the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC), this April.
Specifically, Victoria’s resolution asks UBCM:
“…to explore the initiation of a class action lawsuit on behalf of member local governments to recover costs from climate change from major fossil fuels corporations…”
The resolution also calls for a legislative overhaul to pave the path for the lawsuits:
“AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia consider legislation to support local governments in recovering costs arising from climate change.”
Last month, ResourceWorks, a local non-profit committed to responsible resource development in British Columbia, released a policy brief explaining why climate litigation is a misguided endeavor for local communities and requires new legislation to have any likelihood of success. In the brief, they explained why pro-climate litigation groups are also asking for similar legislation:
“…it demands that BC enact legislation that would ‘streamline climate lawsuits’ – a clear recognition that these suits are set up to fail without significant changes to provincial law to facilitate them.”
The group concluded their report by calling for a different approach:
“It’s imperative that in the case of proposed litigation, municipal councils make the right choices. The false dichotomy of decarbonization versus successful oil and gas companies is based on creating conflict. Dealing with climate change by exacerbating the divide over an already contentious issue is not a practical solution. These baseless lawsuits draw attention away from collaborative solutions to improve the environment.”
Other Areas of British Columbia Are Pushing Back on Climate Litigation
“…writing letters, passing resolutions and filing class-action lawsuits in the name of ‘climate liability’ against major innovation drivers and employers is not an appropriate direction for BC municipalities.”
Like Victoria’s resolution, Fort Saint John’s may also be considered at UBCM this September after passing through the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA), ultimately allowing BC municipalities to vote on competing climate liability resolutions.