At the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) last month in Quebec City, some delegates wore a button that read, “Ask me about the Climate Caucus.”
In response, others wore, “I love oil and gas.”
The Climate Caucus is a national 218-member group of municipal politicians started in January by Nelson councillor Rik Logtenberg.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary wore both buttons at the conference, Logtenberg told the Star.
“Nenshi’s message was how important it was to come together,” he said. “He made a presentation, and he talked about that.”
Neither Nenshi nor FCM president Bill Karsten responded to multiple requests for comment from the Star about this unprecedented level of activism at FCM, an event normally reserved for education and networking.
The caucus is not an FCM-sponsored group. It’s an independent initiative to which the FCM provided a meeting room at the conference.
Other local members of the caucus include Nelson councillors Jesse Woodward, Brittny Anderson and Keith Page; Rossland mayor Kathy Moore; Silverton councillor and RDCK director Leah Main; and RDCK director Ramona Faust.
The meeting of the Climate Caucus at the FCM attracted between 150 and 200 people.
“The response was way higher than we expected,” Logtenberg said. “We couldn’t fit everyone in the room.”
He said they were all concerned about how to respond to flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, drought, and water management, as well as how to reduce carbon pollution, improve energy efficiency, and transition to renewable energy.
Logtenberg said the meeting gave some of the politicians a feeling they were not alone.
“Coming together as a group like that, we know these are global events, and some of them might be on the minority on their council or they are struggling with the scope of it. To hear the other municipalities that are dealing with it too left them with optimism.”
He said the caucus will allow members to learn about measures others are taking to tackle climate change or mitigate its effects.
“For example, the City of Vancouver suggested the work they are doing is something they would be happy to share with other local governments, so if you are a minority on council, the one lone voice, you [can take advantage of] research and background done for you already. It gives you a lot more opportunity to act.”
Logtenberg said, for example, that Vancouver council had directed its staff to find ways to have 90 per cent of the population living within walking distance of a transit hub and all basic needs by 2030. The research and planning for this could be shared with other cities.
He said the caucus wants to have a role in the federal election, and its non-partisan membership could be an example to the federal leadership candidates, who need to get beyond party politics if they are going to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Arjun Singh, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, a Climate Caucus member, and a councillor in Kamloops, agrees with Logtenberg. “I think local governments are culturally more adept at collaboration than other levels of government, so we certainly talk to our Alberta and Saskatchewan colleagues at FCM, and we are definitely trying to make sure we have discussion and dialogue. One thing to be really careful of is when things polarize and it becomes challenging to get any work done.”
Logtenberg said the challenge is to commit to being non-partisan in an election year.
“As a caucus of elected representatives in some ways we are the template for that. We have been explicit in non-partisanship from the beginning.”
But it won’t be easy, judging from the response to the caucus at FCM from some members, especially from Alberta.
“Feelings are incredibly raw. I had people come up to me and say B.C. is the problem, and they are going to cut us off. They were really angry.
“I don’t think one of them said climate change was not real or that climate change was not human-caused. What they were saying was there is no space for conversations about jobs, about security.
“I completely get it. You are there to represent your constituents. If they are losing their houses and jobs, that is a big deal, it takes over everything else. What I responded was: this is something we have to face together.”
Logtenberg said the caucus hopes to organize and sponsor a federal leaders’ debate on climate issues.