Climate litigation in Canada is hitting more roadblocks after Mike Layton, a member of the Toronto city council, introduced a motion that asks the city to track costs related to climate change and study legal strategies to “recover costs” from energy companies. Like other attempts to get Canadian municipalities onto the climate litigation bandwagon, this motion was swiftly met with intense scorn by those who view litigation as an ineffective and divisive tactic to deal with climate change.
The news attracted especially intense opposition from Alberta, the home base for Canada’s oil and gas sector, whose economy is currently suffering due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure. Albertans are currently gearing up to head to the polls and vote for a new leader to run their province and both candidates quickly derided the motion.
Jason Kenney, the United Conservative Party (UCP) candidate running for Premier of Alberta blasted the motion in a four page letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory stating:
“I am writing to ask that you and Toronto City Council oppose Councillor Layton’s motion that seeks to pin responsibility for the global challenge of greenhouse gas emissions on Canada’s oil and natural gas producers through a lawsuit. This motion is injurious to national unity, is divisive, and would be damaging to Canada’s economy.” (emphasis added)
“The adoption of Councillor Layton’s motion would be seen by most Albertans as another example of a campaign to attack and vilify the essential role that our province plays in the Canadian economy. It would pour yet more gas on the flames of the growing national unity challenge.”
Even Albertan Premier Rachel Notley, a member of the left leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), who is running against Kenney, also took a few swings on twitter:
Toronto Mayor John Tory also quickly sought to distance himself from the motion and Layton:
“I don’t favour the city of Toronto becoming involved in lawsuits against oil companies. I don’t think those kinds of lawsuits advance the protection of the environment.”
“Usually, when you have these kinds of lawsuits the only beneficiaries are the lawyers and perhaps those involved in political theatre.” (emphasis added)
Tory also voiced Toronto’s support for Alberta:
“The city of Toronto and its people and its businesses have benefited immensely from being partners with Alberta in our country. There are lots of people who are working here in the city of Toronto or in its surrounding area that owe a big part of their secure employment to the fact that we do business with the province of Alberta.”
Commentators also voiced their displeasure with Layton’s motion. Terence Corcoran, a commentator in the Financial Post wrote:
“Layton says he wants to look at the idea of suing corporations because he is a ‘firm believer in the notion that polluters should pay.’ Fair enough, but when it comes to fossil fuel consumption, most of the pollution is produced by individuals driving cars around the city, heating their homes, and otherwise improving their lives using fossil fuels. They are the front-line polluters, not the oil companies.”
Stewart Muir of Resource Works, a non-profit in British Columbia, also warned that cities there have faced backlash as a result of the campaign, “Toronto only needs to look west for proof of why these PR motivated suits are a bad idea.”
Notably when the resort community of Whistler sent a letter to Canadian company CNRL demanding money for climate damages, oil and gas companies pulled out of an investor conference scheduled to occur last February.
More recently, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria both sent letters to Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps asking her to abandon her push for a lawsuit, echoing others’ concerns.
The Hotel Association wrote:
“…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.”
Before the first lawsuit has even been filed in Canada, proponents of climate litigation have encountered intense criticism for further polarizing an issue that is already contentious. Perhaps they should heed the advice of their critics and seek consensus driven solutions to this global issue instead of playing the blame game.