BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau, speaking at the recent UBCM convention, said Alberta’s energy war room shouldn’t be targeting B.C. municipalities for phasing out FortisBC gas hookups.Photo Scott McAlpine / UBCM Flickr

B.C.’s Green Party Leader is dismayed Alberta’s fossil fuel “war room” is targeting Nanaimo, B.C., for its leadership in phasing out natural gas hookups to reduce the community’s emissions.

After a summer of record-breaking wildfires and sustained heat and drought, every level of government needs to be seeking solutions to the climate crisis, not sabotaging those that do, said Sonia Furstenau, the Greens’ leader and MLA for Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

“What is needed from all leaders, governments, across all jurisdictions right now are tangible solutions,” Furstenau said.

“It’s beyond inappropriate and undermines how democratic decisions are meant to be made if an external influence is inserting itself into a municipality’s decision in a different province.”

Alberta’s infamous energy “war room” — the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), armed with $32 million in tax dollars by the United Conservative government in 2023 to protect and promote the fossil fuel industry — put Nanaimo in its crosshairs after the city council voted to accelerate the phaseout of FortisBC’s natural gas hookups from new buildings to meet B.C.’s zero-emissions targets.

Both the federal government and the B.C. government have certainly been subject to general lobbying by CEC and its offshoot website, Support Canadian Energy, on behalf of the oil and gas interests, Furstenau said.

But it’s not entirely clear why Nanaimo, a city scratching 100,000 residents, is the only local government getting heat from Alberta’s war room to reverse a decision with limited impact on FortisBC’s and the oil and gas sector’s interests.

Nanaimo’s city hall staff reported that after the ban goes into effect in 2024, approximately 160 homes annually would be affected by the new rule.

The neighbouring communities of Saanich and much larger cities like Victoria and Vancouver, along with other B.C. municipalities, have also shown leadership in taking similar decisions or are expected to enact similar measures, Furstenau noted.

Nanaimo city councillors told Canada’s National Observer the CEC’s campaign on behalf of FortisBC was an affront to the democratic process, meddling in local government decisions by an outside province, and an effort to intimidate other municipalities considering reductions to emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Furstenau agreed, saying a large fossil fuel lobbying effort backed by a province might pose a chill effect for small municipalities.

“Nobody wants to be the target of a campaign like this,” she said. “I can see that being a concern.”

As of Monday, the pro-oil website stated it had generated 2,450 letters urging Nanaimo to reverse the decision.

“The good news is that the vote on Nanaimo [city council] was very tight — it came down to a single vote,” the campaign page reads.

“These letters make a real difference. Councillors need to know what the majority of people think.”

The CEC refused an interview request from Canada’s National Observer on its campaign to reverse Nanaimo’s decision. As did Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office and the province’s justice, environment, and energy ministries — whose ministers make up the CEC’s three-person board.

B.C. Minister of Environment George Heyman’s office declined an interview request or to comment if it was appropriate for another provincial agency to push to reverse a decision made by a local government in British Columbia.

Minister of Municipal Affairs Ann Kang’s office also declined to comment if the CEC’s targeted campaign against Nanaimo was appropriate.

“Local governments in British Columbia operate with a high level of autonomy within their jurisdiction,” said Kang’s office in an email.

“They are democratically elected and accountable to their constituents for their actions and have the legal authority and responsibility for making decisions on behalf of their communities.”

Buildings are responsible for 10 per cent of B.C.’s C02 emissions, most generated by burning fossil fuels for heat.

B.C. showed leadership in taking and supporting decisions that dramatically scale back the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas and in supporting local governments in making decisions to contribute to the province’s net-zero targets, Furstenau said.

The electrification of buildings and using heat pumps, which are market-ready now and, unlike natural gas, drastically reduces emissions and can both cool and heat a home as the climate crisis advances, Furstenau said.

“B.C. should be encouraging the use of electric heat pumps, which can not only provide warmth in the cold winter months, but can provide essential, and often life-saving, cooling in the summer,” she said.

“It would be good for the province to support elected officials who have made those decisions at their council table and to speak out against interference from another province and, ultimately, from what appears to be oil and gas interests.”

By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 28, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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