Yesterday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in Victoria, B.C.’s local government leaders passed the strongest ever provincial motion opposing the expansion of oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s coast.
The motion, dubbed “A8” read as follows:
WHEREAS a crude oil spill would have devastating and long lasting effects on British Columbia’s unique and diverse coast, which provides critical marine habitat and marine resources that sustain the social, cultural, environmental and economic health of coastal and First Nations communities;
AND WHEREAS citizens of British Columbia, particularly those living in coastal communities, and First Nations communities and environmental groups have expressed well-founded concerns over the expansion of oil pipelines and oil tankers:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that UBCM oppose projects that would lead to the expansion of oil tanker traffic through BC’s coastal waters;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that UBCM urge the Premier of British Columbia, the Leader of the Official Opposition and members of the Legislative Assembly to use whatever legislative and administrative means that are available to stop the expansion of oil tanker traffic through BC’s coastal waters.
In the week leading up to the vote over 2,000 British Columbians wrote unique, personal letters to their local mayor and council encouraging them to vote for A8.
Celine and I from Dogwood Initiative were at the convention (along with an inspiring crew of esteemed colleagues from West Coast Environmental Law, Georgia Strait Alliance, Organizing for Change, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club BC and CPAWS) and we heard again and again from mayors and councillors how unusual it was to hear from constituents on a UBCM motion, how effective the letters were in getting out the vote, and how empowered they felt getting to know specific people in their community who aligned with their own values.
To all who wrote a letter: great work! You made all of the difference in the world, likely pushing the vote over the top (the motion passed by a hair’s margin of 51 to 49%).
Don’t be discouraged by that close vote. The many conversations that we had with elected officials, from McBride to Tofino to Grand Forks, proved how widespread and deeply felt the commitment is to protect our salmon rivers and coast from oil pipelines and tankers. Not everyone agreed, but remember that this motion was aggressively pushing new ground.
Previous UBCM motions have focused solely on Enbridge and consultation. Today’s motion means that the UBCM now opposes ALL projects, current or future, that would bring more oil tankers anywhere on B.C.’s coast. That was a hard sell for some local governments because it is a very definitive position.
The fact that such a strong, all-encompassing resolution was passed speaks to a growing province-wide realization that this isn’t just about our environment. It never has been. This is about protecting the very fabric of our communities, our local economies from Prince Rupert to Victoria to Fort St. James that depend on a healthy coastline and rivers, and our sense of ourselves as British Columbians.
Does today’s stand by local governments mean that the fight is over? No, local governments don't have formal jurisdiction over oil tanker and pipeline proposals. The power of today’s victory is in the symbolism of the motion and the political signal that it sends to Premier Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper that local communities have considered these proposals and, in many cases across the province, have found that any iteration of these schemes are contrary to the best interests of their residents.
The most powerful change starts from the ground up, and we sincerely applaud those elected mayors, councillors, and regional directors who courageously took a stand today. We’re inspired by the many First Nations who have laid the ground work for so long, we're inspired by you and everyone who is committed to carrying on the struggle.
Footnote: Unfortunately UBCM doesn't track individual votes. All we know is the final result. However we do know who stood up to the microphones to speak for or against the motion:
For (opposing tankers):
-Des Nobles, Director, Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District
-Vicki Sanders, Councillor, Saanich
-Vic Derman, Councillor, Saanich and CRD Director
-Ben Isitt, Councillor, Victoria and CRD Director
-Shari Green, Mayor, Prince George
-Tim Pennell, Director, Thompson-Nicola Regional District
-Dave Forshaw, Councillor, District of Mackenzie
-Jim Edgson, Director, Central Okanagan Regional District
There were others lined up to speak for the motion (including Jen Rice from Prince Rupert, Brian Skakun from Prince George, Evan Puterill from the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, Cairine Green from Oak Bay) and against (didn’t quite catch who they were), but the vote was called before they had a chance to speak.