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Big oil lawsuit not supported by City of Powell River Council

Councillors, mayor decide not to sign onto class action suit related to climate impacts
RECOVER COSTS: City of Powell River Council debated whether to support a class action lawsuit called Sue Big Oil, but voted to not participate.

City of Powell River councillors have elected not to participate in a class action suit against big oil.

At the March 7 city council meeting, councillors considered participating in the Sue Big Oil campaign, which is an initiative to file a class-action lawsuit against large oil, gas and coal companies to recover costs related to the climate impacts caused by big oil industry, according to a staff report. The staff recommendation was that city council receive the staff report for information.

Councillor Rob Southcott, however, moved an alternative motion that the city commit to providing up to $14,000 in funding to pursue a class-action lawsuit against large oil, gas and coal companies, contingent upon other BC municipalities joining and raising a minimum amount of $500,000 combined.

“I don’t feel we have any alternative to taking this approach,” said Southcott.

He said in 2019, the city declared a climate emergency, along with many other local governments all over Canada. He said the city’s last strategic plan included Powell River being a carbon negative corporate city.

Southcott said Canada is now internationally regarded as a laggard country regarding big oil. He said Canada is way behind some European Union countries and is even behind the United States.

“Our situation here is we have an $800,000 budget item for repair of our sea walk,” said Southcott. “That damage was from a northwesterly storm. These have happened in the past but nothing like the one that caused that damage to the sea walk, indicating climate change is to blame.’

Southcott said everyone uses oil and gas every day, and the suit is not about blaming, it is about including the wealth of that industry in a collective, society-wide approach to what is increasingly seen as a colossal problem.

He said the discussion is about securing the kind of funding that Canada needs to secure futures for young people.

“There’s a moral imperative here,” said Southcott. “I would frankly be embarrassed if we don’t support this because what is being asked for is approximately equivalent to a little less than one per cent of the amount we have budgeted for road repair this year.

“Profit first doesn’t work. I’m urging us to support, and I obviously emphatically do.”

Not in favour

Other councillors, however, were not fully in alignment with proceeding with a suit against big oil.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said the class action suit should include all the players, including those who are making the decisions, and not only target a small piece of them.

“I’m not if favour of the motion today,” said Elliott. “Should I be proven wrong in the future, we can join at any time.”

Councillor Jim Palm said he agreed with Elliott. He said he puts a lot of value into staff recommendations, which, in this case, was to receive the report. He said right now, there are only five cities that have designated money toward the suit, and no law firm has stepped forward to take it on.

“It is premature in asking our residents to put up $14,000 of their tax dollars when we are strapped at the city,” said Palm. “I am not going to support option number two [Southcott’s motion].

Councillor Trina Isakson said her preference now is to focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation projects locally that the city has direct control over. She said West Coast Environmental Law is getting the ball rolling and this is a lawsuit in principle with details to be sorted out later. She said she had conflicting views, but she was willing to support in principle.

Councillor Earl Almeida said he was not opposed to taking actions to help the climate in general, but he was not convinced this was the direction or time to join the lawsuit.

Councillor George Doubt said he didn’t agree that courts were likely to resolve the issue. He said what was being requested was for council to set aside $14,000 for a lawsuit that is not happening yet.

“I prefer to see local action that this council can do one step at a time locally,” said Doubt.

Mayor Ron Woznow said he would not support the motion, which failed, with Southcott in support.

Doubt then made a motion to accept the report, as recommended by staff. Councillor Trina Isakson amended it to receive the report and to also include correspondence from Andrew Gage from West Coast Environmental Law to go with it. The amendment carried.

Council then carried the motion to receive the report with Gage’s letter attached.

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