‘It is possible:’ Victoria mayor says fossil-free future not optional

Victoria’s mayor says cities need to move to a fossil-free future — at the same time as they protect jobs. Lisa Helps says her city is working hard to get there.

“City by city, if people turns their minds to it, it is possible.”

The environment-versus-industry debate has ramped up across Canada following Tuesday’s federal government repeat approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

READ MORE: Trans Mountain expansion re-approval sparks duelling rallies in Vancouver

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But even before that, B.C.’s coastal capital region had declared a climate emergency. Victoria City Council has a plan to get off fossil fuels by 2050, and is aiming to be carbon-neutral even earlier, by 2030.

We sat down with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to shed some light on the view from the other side of the Rockies.

Here’s part of our conversation, which took place before the pipeline re-approval was announced. 

Global News: Everybody uses power. Victorians drive cars. Are you hypocrites?

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps: “I would completely agree with that if we didn’t have a climate leadership plan, if we were just pointing fingers and saying, ‘No more oil,’ but we actually have a detailed plan to phase off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

“We’re working hard on a daily basis and also in a long-term way to phase off fossil fuels.”

GN: What do you want people in Alberta to know about how this issue is perceived on the west coast?

LH: “Victoria and British Columbia is really an environmental jewel. We’ve got hundreds of kilometres of coastline, a lot of it pristine.”

“Our economy depends on our coast.

“Canada is a country of natural resources. Our natural resource happens to be the ocean and the coast.

READ MORE: House of Commons declares National climate emergency

“For us, our economy and our ecology depend on the environment remaining uncontaminated. The big concern about fossil fuel shipping is when you’re increasing shipments, you’re increasing risk, without question.”

GN: Canada is a vast country. What do you say to critics of your plan who argue Alberta energy keeps the lights on across the nation?

LH: “We really need to look at: What does a just transition to a fossil-fuel free economy look like?

“Jobs are absolutely important and revenue from jobs is important and revenue from companies and taxes are important.

“What we need to do is move to low-carbon or no-carbon prosperity. We don’t have a choice.

“There does need to be a way to make sure everyone who’s working in the energy economy continues to work in the energy economy as it transitions.”

GN: You’ve talked about the need for an open dialogue. Is there a way to find agreement on this debate? 

LH: “I don’t there’s a way for everybody to agree but there’s certainly a way for everybody to understand each other’s perspectives, to have a broader perspective.

“We’re not necessarily going to change minds but I think if we can look at Canada’s energy and Canada’s  environmental future as two sides of the same coin, those conversations are really important.

READ MORE: Victoria mayor not yet convinced about oilsands future after Alberta trip

“That’s why I went to see oilsands. It would have been very easy to say, ‘No, I’m not interested’ but I went to broaden my perspective so at least when people are talking about this industry, I can understand it better.”

Helps toured part of the Alberta oilsands in April, writing in her blog, “I was truly moved by the people I met and what I saw and also by the fact that a day-long dialogue with perfect strangers can deepen understanding and strengthen human connection.

GN: We also asked about a common point of contention: that Victoria has long pumped its raw sewage into the ocean.

“I’m learning it takes a while for this news to travel,” said Helps, sharing that a wastewater treatment project is under construction in the capital region and is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.”

READ MORE: After decades of debate, Victoria’s sewage treatment plant finally on the way

LISTEN BELOW: Cody Battershill of Canada Action speaks to Global News Radio ahead of the Victoria Mayor’s oilsands tour (Apr 25, 2019)

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