Victoria mayor to tour Alberta oilsands with ‘open mind’

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps will tour Alberta’s oilsands next month.

Helps confirmed Wednesday that she has accepted an invitation from Calgary Coun. Ward Sutherland to travel to Alberta on April 26 to visit oil and gas facilities.

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“I really do think it’s important to have an open mind just to gain a broader perspective,” Helps said.

“So I think just generally having a wider perspective in any situation is a good idea because it helps you understand other people’s points of view,” she said.

“I am really curious to know what are the innovative approaches that they are taking. What are the sustainability measures that they are putting in place? I think it’s important I know these things.”

The invitation follows Victoria council’s support for a potential class-action lawsuit by B.C. municipalities against oil and gas companies, a move that angered some Alberta politicians.

Helps stressed the trip will be paid for by the City of Calgary.

“It is the City of Calgary that’s hosting me, not Victoria taxpayers and not the oilsands industry. … That’s the No. 1 question we’ll get,” she said.

“So I’m not being bought off by the oil industry and I’m also not wasting Victoria taxpayers’ money taking a trip to Calgary.”

She also plans to insist on carbon offsets for the flight.

“That’s one of the things that I’m going to do every time I fly in this term — buy carbon offsets,” Helps said. “It’s not a perfect solution, but we’ll make sure that’s part of the package.”

Victoria’s council resolution called on staff to track and report costs associated with climate change.

Councillors also supported forwarding a resolution to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities calling on the UBCM to explore initiating a lawsuit on behalf of local governments and encouraging the province to support local governments in recovering climate-change costs from major fossil-fuel corporations. The lawsuit aims to “recover costs arising from climate change from major fossil fuels corporations.”

The resolution angered some Calgary council members, including Sean Chu, who pointed out that Victoria flushes raw sewage into the ocean — a practice expected to end by the end of 2020 when the Capital Regional District’s new tertiary sewage-treatment plant comes on line.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi agreed to write a letter to Victoria council in response to the potential lawsuit, and Sutherland subsequently issued an invitation to local officials to pay a visit to learn more about Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

Victoria was one of the first municipalities in B.C. to write to major oil and gas companies seeking compensation.

Helps said climate change is going to be a “fiscal crisis” for cities, yet the funding formula for cities has not changed since Confederation.

“So if [we’re] not looking for compensation from some of the biggest causes … then we need to have a serious conversation with senior levels of government to have predictable funding for cities to pay for both adaptation and mitigation,” Helps said.

“I feel like cities are trying to be rational, economic actors and one opportunity that rational economic actors take is to pursue lawsuits. Climate change is an issue facing all cities.”

According to the Calgary Herald, Helps will tour a steam-assisted gravity drainage project near Fort McMurray. She also hopes to meet with Nenshi.

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