Burnaby Council votes to sue Big Oil

This week’s council meeting started with a presentation by a Vancouver International Airport (YVR) delegation that presented the highlights of the airport’s achievements for 2023. Trevor Boudreau, director of government relations at YVR, said the airport launched 13 new routes in 2023, including routes to Dubai and Singapore.

“At the heart of our success is our team. In 2023, we had a year of unprecedented people growth at YVR. We effectively doubled our workforce,” Boudreau said. “We’re very pleased to be an important part of the local community. About 1,500 people that live in Burnaby work at Sea Island.”

Boudreau added that in 2023, YVR in-housed many services previously contracted with third-party services and was re-certified as a living wage employer by Living Wage for Families BC. In addition, Boudreau said YVR works with 85 Burnaby businesses, amounting to $52M in local spending, and the airport is on its way to being a Net Zero 2030 airport.

Burnaby council agrees to sue Big Oil

The Sue Big Oil campaign returned to council this week and sparked some debate among council members. Coun. Daniel Tetrault spoke first in favour of suing oil companies.

“Climate change is imposing liabilities on municipalities,” Tetrault said. “As the Sue Big Oil campaign proclaims, litigation is a very important tool, maybe one of the only tools, to directly challenge the profits made by these companies.”

Tetrault then read two letters in council, one from a nine-year-old student named Penny, who wrote about being unable to play outdoors in the summer due to the excessive heat and wildfire smoke. Once he finished reading Penny’s letter, the council chambers erupted in cheers and applause, which Mayor Mike Hurley quickly pointed out are not allowed in the council chambers.

Coun. Maita Santiago added her comments, saying that recently, at a conference with other orders of government, the conversation turned to how cities will cover the rising costs of climate change.

“What I heard from them was that we have to look to our residents,” Santiago said, adding that this would mean imposing additional taxes on Burnaby residents, who would then shoulder the costs of climate change caused by fossil fuel companies.

Coun. Richard Lee opposed the motion, citing economic reasons.

“I cannot say we have to sue the supplier of the source of energy I am using today. Our economy still cannot do without oil or the products derived from oil. So I think it’s important to keep our economy going as well,” Lee said.

Coun. Alison Gu spoke about the economy but from a different perspective.

“At 1.1 degrees of warming, we had the heat dome in 2021 that killed 650 people, and then we had the catastrophic floods that ripped apart critical infrastructure connecting people to central goods and services,” Gu said. “The cost that Canada is going to be facing per year is estimated to be $5.3 billion.” She added that the largest oil and gas producers posted profits of $85.6 billion in 2023 alone.

Mayor Mike Hurley also supported the motion that the City of Burnaby work towards a class action suit against several large international fossil fuel companies, raise at least $500,000, and set aside the equivalent of $1 per resident. The motion also requires the city to use any money awarded in a settlement to combat climate change.

“Burnaby has already put a lot into fighting big oil over a number of years, and quite frankly, we’ve stood alone in that fight in many ways,” Hurley said. “Let’s continue down the road of making those who pollute pay for the pollution.”

2023 Annual Municipal Report

According to the 2023 Annual Municipal Report submitted to council this week, the city’s financial reserves are declining.

At the May 13 meeting, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal summarized the key points in the report, saying, “Our 2023 projections were down. We started out with something like $450 million in surplus in line with what was happening in the previous years, but we did finish the year with just about half of that.”

Dhaliwal added that this decline in surplus will probably continue in the coming years, severely affecting the city’s ability to provide amenities. This decline was partly due to the recent housing density legislation imposed by the province.

“The community benefit bonus was projected to be $237 million, and we brought in about $62 million,” Dhaliwal said.

$1,995,000 for processing of green waste compostable materials

Council also voted to approve a contract increase for GFL Environment Inc. of $1,995,000 for green waste compostable materials processing.

According to a report submitted to council, “The contract increase is required because diversion of compostable materials from the garbage stream has increased significantly over the past five years. City staff have reviewed the contract increase and believe it appropriately addresses our needs at a competitive cost. The total estimated contract value will be $18,066,563, including GST in the amount of $860,313.”

The mayor commented on the increasing cost of waste processing in Burnaby and that coming years will likely see a steep cost climb, exceeding inflation levels.

“We really need to sit down and get an answer to this,” Hurley said. “I remind everyone that the Vancouver landfill will close in six years. We still cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t have this issue. Sending out of province, or sending it God knows where in the province, has to end. We have to start finding solutions to these issues within the region.”

Coun. Pietro Calendino echoed the mayor’s comments, saying that he is regularly presented with the issue as a member of the solid waste committee in Metro Vancouver. Calendino added that although Vancouver is one of the best areas in North America in terms of recycling, the cost of processing and carting waste is $190 per ton. Burnaby produces 40,000 tons of waste a year, and Metro Vancouver produces over a million tons of waste per year.

“These are huge amounts of money the taxpayers are going to have to shoulder,” Calendino said. “I know that we in Burnaby always have solid waste and liquid waste much, much lower than Metro Vancouver, but unless we maintain the reserves which we saw in the previous report, the impact on the households will be incredibly high.”

Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon