Victoria riles Alberta with support for oilpatch lawsuit

Victoria councillors’ call to sue big oil and gas companies over climate change is generating heat from their Alberta counterparts, who say the environmental complaints ring hollow coming from a city that flushes raw sewage into the ocean.

Following comments from some of his councillors, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he will send a letter to Victoria councillors, expressing his city’s support for the energy sector.

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Nenshi’s letter follows Victoria council’s endorsement of a class action lawsuit against oil and gas companies.

The motion authorizing the endorsement also called on staff to track costs incurred by the city in relation to climate change. It will be brought up at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting.

The lawsuit aims to “recover costs arising from climate change from major fossil fuels corporations.”

Calgary Coun. Sean Chu said the oil and gas industry is the engine of Canada’s economy. He took note of the lawsuit proposal, and said that Victoria dumps raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean, something it shouldn’t do if it’s concerned about the environment.

He wasn’t alone.

In a statement, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the “hypocrisy” of the proposed lawsuit is “astounding.”

“While Victoria is pumping over 100 million litres of raw sewage into the ocean every day, the hardworking people of our energy sector are reducing emissions, investing in clean technology and powering our great country. We will defend our workers every day, especially against grandstanding lawsuits.”

Calgary council voted last month to support the energy industry and the pursuit of pipelines to help get Alberta’s energy resources to markets.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, the city’s lead on the issue, said there’s “clearly a divergence of opinion” among both the public and politicians in B.C. and Alberta. He said it appeared the Alberta politicians were getting their talking points from public relations firms for the oil and gas industry.

“They seem to have no idea that we’re investing $800 million on wastewater treatment. That infrastructure is long overdue, but the comments from Calgary’s council chamber last night would have suggested that there’s no capital project underway to stop pollution of the ocean,” Isitt said.

“In the City of Victoria, we’re putting a strong climate action lens front and centre. The comments from the premier of Alberta and also the comments from the mayor of Calgary seem to reflect a defence of the oil sector. So it’s challenging to see how those perspectives can be reconciled.”

Victoria’s council has received legal advice in in-camera sessions on possible options for local governments to consider, Isitt said. “The city’s evaluating its options and we’re asking other local governments to evaluate theirs and we’re encouraging them to work with us if this is something they are concerned about.”

The Capital Regional District’s $765-million wastewater project, now under construction, is to provide tertiary sewage treatment for Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, View Royal, Langford, Colwood, Esquimalt and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations by the end of 2020.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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