Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Vancouver declared a climate emergency in early 2019, becoming one of the first cities in the world to make such a pronouncement. The declaration was the latest in a long series of policies in Vancouver that gave the city a reputation as a leader in pushing for climate policies at the local level.
Vancouver’s city council is now looking to open a new front in that fight, endorsing a proposal to set aside about $660,000 – up to a dollar for every resident – to finance a class-action lawsuit against oil companies to recoup the costs associated with climate change.
It’s not clear what happens next. There aren’t any class-action lawsuits in the works, either from Vancouver, another city, or West Coast Environmental Law, the legal advocacy group that would receive the money.
But there has been a growing push for cities and other levels of government to go after oil companies in the same way that governments sued tobacco companies for the cost associated with treating lung cancer among smokers, and, most recently, Purdue Canada for its roll in fuelling the deadly opioid crisis.
Councillor Adriane Carr, who put forward the motion, says it’s a simple matter of polluter pay. She said oil companies knowingly sold a product that results in greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change, which imposes high costs on cities such as Vancouver.
The motion, which passed with a vote of 6-5, directs city staff to include the money in Vancouver’s draft 2023 operating budget. The proposal would need to be approved by the next city council, which will be chosen in the municipal election scheduled for October.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP MP, supported the motion.
The idea of a lawsuit is likely to become political fodder in Alberta, whose Premier, Jason Kenney, has long accused outside forces – including other governments and environmental groups – of attempting to pin down the province’s oil industry. Mr. Kenney is leaving office later this year, but the front-runners to replace him as United Conservative Party leader and premier have taken up his “fight back” strategy with even more enthusiasm.
Alberta’s NDP Leader, Rachel Notley, said she didn’t think a class-action lawsuit would be successful. She also suggested it’s hypocritical for a city such as Vancouver to pursue a lawsuit against oil companies even as the city and people across the country use fossil fuels.