Fossil fuel city council meeting “embarrassing” for Regina

regina city hall. wikimedia commons

We must fight oil and gas harder if we want renewable Regina

At 2:54 p.m. on January 27 – an hour and 54 minutes into what would turn into a six-and-a-half hour city council meeting – I texted one of my friends, “I can’t keep watching this, I’m going to have a stroke.” We were a few delegates in on the subject of last week’s proposed amendment to the Sponsorship, Naming Rights, and Advertising policy, a policy that would see fossil fuel companies banned from naming public buildings or events after themselves (meaning no more Exxon Mobil Waskimo Winter Festival). While watching the meeting, I felt like I was going to burst out of my skin.

Everything about the motion was surreal and infuriating: the moment when Scott Moe stepped way out of line to condemn it, the moment when Sandra Masters cut off RPIRG’s Krystal Lewis as she described the outsized influence the oil and gas industry has on this city (a point ironically proved when she was silenced), and the moment when a delegate from the Keystone Group, which doesn’t even operate in Regina, admitted that the company hasn’t even been making major donations because the O&G industry is collapsing. It was a perfect display of what’s wrong with Regina, and what challenges we’re going to face if the city actually wants to meet its commitment to becoming 100 per cent renewable by 2050 (a goal that’s much too far into the future).

In fairness to everyone involved in the city council meeting, I was already stressed out after having read an article about how the Doomsday Clock had been moved forward to 100 Seconds to Midnight, in part because of climate-related environmental collapse. Another article then said the Earth has lost 28 trillion tons of ice since the mid-1990s. As someone who doesn’t want to see civilization collapse into armed warfare while factions battle for narrow strips of habitable land, as desertification and rising sea levels render much of the planet unlivable, I was tense. And it’s not that I thought that this amendment, which would have placed oil and gas companies in the same category as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana companies (and, as Keystone’s Craig Lothian spat, “the sex industry”), was going to turn back the clock on climate change. But I thought that it would draw a clear line in the sand. It was a way of saying that fossil fuels pose an existential threat to humanity, and we won’t allow them to buy goodwill as they scramble to cover their asses after suppressing the truth about their role in the climate crisis for the past 50 years. But alas, it was not to be.

More than a dozen pro-oil and gas lobbyists turned out to the council meeting, some with an absolutely tragic song and dance about how they had never seen workers as “demoralized” as when they found out that the city was passing an amendment that would have absolutely no impact on their work whatsoever. At least four of the delegates were from the same group of companies – Keystone Royalty Corp., Lex Capital Management, and Villanova Group – but they made up some bullshit about how they were coming forward as humble independents, just speaking for their salt-of-the-earth selves. They wrung their hands and trotted out all the tired old tropes about how if you’ve ever used plastic you need to crawl up into an O&G worker’s ass and stay there for the rest of your life. It was great.

When Jason Mancinelli, who had initially voted in favour of the amendment at the executive council meeting the week before, said that attempting to bar fossil fuel companies from having naming rights in our city was “embarrassing” for Regina (a sentiment shared by the mayor) I almost threw my phone. I’m embarrassed for this city, too. But not for the reason that Mancinelli is. I’m embarrassed that we sat there for hours and let people who have actively and enthusiastically participated in the destruction of the environment whine about how the city will now have to work to repair its relationship with them. I’m embarrassed that we have bought into the lie that to support the right of workers to have dignified work at well-paying jobs is to support, without question or criticism, the right of the oil and gas industry to do whatever they want. I’m embarrassed that people in this city threatened violence against councillors who dared to support the amendment. I’m embarrassed that those threats worked.

I hope that, going forward, council continues to put forward bold, concrete plans for Regina’s future. I hope that they are willing to fight for those plans as hard as the oil and gas industry is willing to fight against them. I hope that as a city, we can mobilize in support of councillors who do bring forward visionary policies that will make this a healthier, more livable city for all of us. But right now, I’m just sad. The industry we are up against is well-resourced, and they have the benefit of decades of propaganda on their side. They are willing and able to turn out in large numbers to vehemently oppose even the most minor of sanctions against them. Renewable Regina will not be possible if we are not prepared for this kind of backlash every time a proposal is put forward that threatens the oil and gas industry. Last Wednesday’s meeting was a study in fossil fuel propagandizing. If Regina wants to kick this habit, we’re going to have to put up a fight.

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