Local governments make decisions that directly impact our daily lives. From maintaining sidewalks in front of our homes and businesses, to setting property tax rates and making rezoning decisions that can profoundly affect the character of our neighbourhoods.
It’s important work, though too often the tasks at hand don’t seem to be enough for some councillors.
Take the widely publicized decision by Victoria Council to champion a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry. The idea was to have industry pay for costs attributed to climate change. This was an outsized overstep that played well to the choir but prompted everything from eye rolls to outright anger outside the echo chamber.
At the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, we expressed our concern with a letter to council asking them to rethink their decision.
First and foremost, launching a lawsuit against industry is not a good use of city taxpayers’ money.
Victoria council recently went through its first budget since last year’s civic elections. One third of council is brand new to the job, so we can understand their enthusiasm. But turning to legal action to try and fulfill your political mandate is not good leadership.
Lawyers are expensive, and going through the courts is a time-consuming process that will, barring a miracle, take longer than council’s current term. All that, and the outcome is far from certain — in other jurisdictions, similar attempts at litigation have been dismissed.
To her credit, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps acknowledged as much even before the city’s resolution to consider litigation against fossil fuel companies was soundly struck down at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention on April 14.
Secondly, our region’s economy benefits from being a welcoming destination for all Canadians, including those from Alberta whose livelihood depends on revenue generated from the oil patch. Having a major source market threaten to boycott our region should give the city a pause — especially as they don’t speak for the residents of the other 12 municipalities that make up Greater Victoria.
The thing is, Victoria has already identified a way forward.
In the City’s Climate Leadership Plan, Mayor Helps states that her vision for Victoria will see us driven by amazing entrepreneurs who “leapt at the challenge to innovate and invent the goods and technologies needed for a clean-energy future.”
The Chamber agrees that the answer lies in innovation led by business. We will continue to encourage all levels of government to focus on supporting the investments required to bring about the technological advances and societal uptake needed to become a low carbon society.
Business wants to be part of the solution, and the best thing all levels of government can do is create the conditions that enable innovation. When it comes to climate change, we are all in this together.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column was originally published in the April 2019 edition of the Business Examiner