After backlash in Whistler, Squamish appears to take a softer tone on climate change letter 

'An oversight' kept District from sending letter asking oil companies to help pay for climate change

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  • File photo

Despite its previous promise, Squamish has yet to send a letter to fossil fuel companies that would ask them to help pay for the costs of climate change, The Chief has learned.

An administrative oversight is being blamed as the cause.

"The motion to send the climate change letter was passed during the election period when our previous council was working to finish a significant amount of business," wrote a District spokesperson in an email.

"It was merely an oversight that the letter wasn't drafted."

This development arrives after Whistler received a sharp rebuke from fossil fuel companies last month for sending its own letter asking the corporations to foot the bill for global warming.

In September, both municipalities agreed to each send a letter to the corporations as part of an initiative spearheaded by both West Coast Environmental Law and local activist group My Sea to Sky.

The environmental groups framed it as a way to call upon corporations to "pay their fair share."

"Faced with wildfires, loss of snowpack, drought, flooding and other rising climate change costs, elected officials in Whistler and Squamish voted on Tuesday, Sept. 4 to send 'Climate Accountability Letters' demanding that 20 of the world's largest fossil fuel companies pay their fair share of climate costs," reads a press release from West Coast Environmental Law issued on Sept. 6, 2018.

At the time, Squamish council voted unanimously in support.

However, since the October municipal elections, only two from the previous council remain in office—Mayor Karen Elliott, who was a councillor at the time the initiative was passed, and Coun. Doug Race.

Similarly, the election added new faces to Whistler's council—;and also saw the promotion of one councillor to mayorÑbut the resort municipality sent a letter in November.

Fossil fuel companies were swift to criticize the resort as hypocritical for several reasons, one being three million tourists make their way to Whistler each year, mostly by car and plane.

Later, CIBC announced it was removing the oil and gas portion from the agenda of its high-profile conference held in Whistler.

This pointed reply became widely publicized and drew national attention for days.

The incident also prompted an editorial from The Chief that cautioned Squamish from wagging its finger against fossil fuel companies before getting our own environmental house in order, especially when much of our tourist economy also requires people get to town via fossil fuels.

Following that development, The Chief was informed that despite the District's promise to send its own letter to fossil fuel companies months in advance, Squamish hasn't yet sent the message it voted in favour of.

However, a letter will still be written, according to Elliott and District staff.

"The letter will be drafted in line with the objectives of the campaign," a District spokesperson said. "We are currently gathering details on the estimated costs of climate change to our own community and will draft the letter accordingly once this information is in hand."

The District couldn't provide information on who would be signing the letter.

Whether all the members of this current council would be willing to be associated with such a document remains unclear.

Furthermore, while it appears a letter will still be sent, the tone of the District's message seems to have softened.

"Our approach will be to invite the fossil fuel companies to the conversation so that they can learn about the challenges we face as municipalities, and that we may learn about their approaches and solutions as we collectively work to transition away from fossil-fuel dependency," reads an email statement from Elliott.

"We wish not to pit industry against the environment, but rather to open up the conversation to highlight our shared concerns, challenges and solutions."

Previously, at the September 2018 council meeting where the original letter was discussed, officials had sharper words for the industry.

"I think the people who are producing this, who are making the most money out of this should be paying for it," said then-mayor Patricia Heintzman.

"It's going to cost our municipality millions more in flood protection and a whole bunch of adaptive measures, and so I think this is an easy first step," she added, remarking on the idea of sending a letter asking fossil fuel companies to help pay the bill.

While those comments were made during a public council meeting, it's unclear if the District intended them to form part of the actual letter that would be sent.

During that Sept. 4 meeting, Elliott and Race, who were councillors at the time, didn't say anything but voted in favour of sending the letter.

Since learning the letter hasn't been sent, My Sea to Sky has said that while it doesn't want to comment on the document—as it hasn't seen it—they are encouraging the District to ask questions about who will be paying for the cost of climate change.

"I would encourage mayor and council to continue with the original letter that they had agreed to send and hold fossil fuel companies accountable to pay their fair share of climate costs," said Tracey Saxby, the executive director of My Sea to Sky.

"It is not fair that taxpayers are the only ones right now, and, particularly, municipalities—it's municipalities that are paying a lot of the costs of climate change, and that has to change."

Saxby noted that the District is budgeting millions to account for rising sea levels. For example, a lot of cash has been poured into dike upgrades, with more expected on the way, she said.

Andrew Gage, a lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law, had a similar message.

"I think fiscally responsible governments everywhere have to ask themselves the question of, 'How are we going to pay for this?'" he said.

"Are we going to assume that our taxpayers pay 100 per cent while this industry that's made a lot of money selling products that give rise to these issues don't pay any of it?&"


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