Lori Ackerman: Vilifying industry does not drive progress

loriackermanThis week, local leaders from around the province will travel to Vancouver for the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Convention. This conference provides a valuable opportunity to gather together once a year and discuss the major issues facing British Columbians.

A focus, this year, will certainly be placed on climate change – in particular, how communities will deal with its associated impacts. I will have the opportunity to sit on a panel with Mayors Lisa Helps of Victoria and Josie Osborne of Tofino. We are joined by Caitlyn Vernon with the Sierra Club and Blair King, achemistinlangley.net, where we will discuss how to work together on this often-polarizing issue.

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Climate change is at the forefront of the collective global conversation; it is imperative that we respond appropriately to this multidimensional problem.

Local governments across B.C. and Canada have considered suing energy companies to pay for the costs of climate change, some going so far as sending letters to producers. The folly of this approach was made apparent when Whistler sent Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. a letter asking them to pay damages to the city. The letter received national attention and backlash from the energy producing areas of Canada and ultimately led to energy companies pulling out of a conference that was set to occur in the municipality.

These lawsuits are the embodiment of a divisive approach that pits energy companies against municipalities and hardens age-old divides: rural versus urban, province versus province, right versus left.

Our communities and our energy companies all agree that we must mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is why collaboration must be at the center of our climate change strategy, bridging the divide and achieving real progress on this critical issue.

Mayor Lisa Helps of Victoria has taken critical steps to do just that earlier this year when she revoked her support for litigation and began to explore alternative options to prepare her community to deal with the costs of climate change. Mayor Helps and I often represent the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the divides I mentioned earlier – yet we both agree on the fundamentals.

During our panel discussion, we will delve into our respective communities’ varying perspectives and – hopefully – begin to chart a consensus-oriented strategy to municipal action on climate resilience. We will also hear about the different challenges facing our communities. While each municipality will likely address its specific challenges in unique ways, we must all cooperate. This is a global problem requiring global participation.

The oil and gas industry is a major job creator for Fort St. John, and it also provides modern energy to the greater province. The Canadian energy sector is one of the cleanest in the world, and it is constantly developing new technology to improve operation efficiency and leave a lighter footprint. This innovative culture should be encouraged and is critical in finding solutions to climate change.
In the words of Mayor Helps, “Time is running out.”

Vilifying an industry will not drive progress, and such a lawsuit would be neither time nor cost effective. Government and industry must partner and work together to identify ways to address climate change. To achieve the best adaptation outcomes, we should engage in seeking solutions and the energy industry should be involved.

Lori Ackerman is mayor of Fort St. John.

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