Oilsands tour changes a BC Mayor’s perspective on the energy industry

Lisa Helps, the mayor of Victoria, British Columbia said that after touring Alberta's oilsands in person she now has a new appreciation for the environmental standards of the industry, though it doesn't change her commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.

Spending a full day touring the steam-assisted gravity drainage oilsands project at Cenovus’ Foster Creek facility north of Cold Lake, Mayor Helps said, "It was extraordinary. I knew nothing about the sector or very little about the sector. I had a certain point of view going in and it was limited, and the whole point of me coming and spending the day was to broaden my mind and broaden my point of view, and that certainly did happen. There's nothing like actually standing in the field to dispel some of those myths."

Canada Action, a grassroots pro-energy group that organized the trip, chose Foster Creek as a balanced representation of the technology, innovation, ingenuity, First Nations partnership, wildlife protection, water recycling, and the continuing technology that's lowering emissions.

Mayor Helps said that though she was impressed, she's not going to begin advocating for the oilsands, saying, "There are two different paradigms right now in Canada with respect to energy and fossil fuel extraction. The paradigm that I was blessed to step into on Friday, I saw a spirit of continuous improvement. I saw hard-working people. I saw people who care passionately about the work that they're doing. I saw efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels to extract fossil fuels. I saw wastewater treatment systems that closed the loop. I saw all sorts of wonderful things in the paradigm that I visited. I live in a different paradigm, and that's the paradigm here in the City of Victoria and the region, and in British Columbia, where we're working really hard and we've got detailed climate leadership plans to phase completely off of fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest."

Earlier this year, Victoria City Council endorsed a potential class-action lawsuit against the oilsands industry. That motion was defeated last week at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention. Mayor Helps said, "I felt I had kind of changed my mind on that one before we got to Alberta. The federal government released its report saying that Canada was warming at twice the global rate, and that combined with the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, which came out in October, makes me think that we have much better ways to spend our resources in a short time than throwing stones across the provincial border at Alberta or anyone else."