A 16-year-old is betting that motorists will take note when their hands pull back on gas nozzles bearing graphic reminders of what fossil fuels are doing to climate change, and she’s persuaded councillors in West Vancouver to investigate the idea.
If local officials find they have the authority to require service stations to install the warnings, the posh district would be the first Canadian municipality to join a national campaign started by a former Toronto lawyer who has spent his savings advocating the idea.
“I am another teenager who is scared for my future,” began Grade 10 student Emily Kelsall, who equates the gas nozzle campaign to the warning labels on packs of cigarettes.
The warnings would be placed on the plastic sleeve of gas nozzles where many stations now place ads. A mock-up label shows a caribou and calf walking in the snow with a warning that climate change could lead to the extinction of 30 per cent of the Earth’s species.
Local councillors have voted in the past to oppose Kinder Morgan’s proposed doubling of its Trans Mountain pipeline. District Councillor Nora Gambioli said the labels would answer a perceived lack of climate-change action by Canada’s senior governments.
“At the federal and provincial levels they are incapable of addressing the issue of climate change. They just don’t have the gumption to do it,” she said. “If we have the finding that we have the jurisdiction, this will be very exciting.”
Transportation is one of the largest single sources of greenhouse gases in the district, accounting for 44 per cent, the district says.
While a majority of the council voiced support for the project, municipal spokesman Jeff McDonald speculated it doesn’t have the authority to pass the rules.
Rob Shirkey, the man responsible for first proposing the idea of labels on gas nozzles, says the question of jurisdiction will soon be answered.
Six law students at the University of Victoria are helping him put together a document outlining how local governments in British Columbia could enact the idea. He has produced a brief in Ontario defending the authority of local governments to enact the labels there.
“I would be surprised if we had less rights and drastically different rules from the municipal act in Ontario,” Ms. Gambioli said.
While she and her fellow councillors wait for an answer on whether they can act, a much larger question looms for what would happen if they passed the bylaw. “The gas companies are going to come after us,” she said.
Mr. Shirkey called a legal challenge a “near certainty,” adding that “big oil has deep pockets.”
The community is drawing inspiration from Hudson, Que. In 1991, the small bedroom community outside Montreal was the first in Canada to ban pesticides. The ban split the community when it was passed and chemical companies sued. By the time the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of the town’s ban a decade later, local leaders had the backing of supportive locals.
In their decision, the justices wrote that municipal bylaws could regulate practices allowed by federal laws. The ruling enthusiastically endorsed the idea that local politicians have a special role to play in safeguarding the health of their constituents, The Globe and Mail reported at the time.
Ms. Kelsall heard the gas nozzle idea on the radio while she was being driven to school. Months later, she faced Mayor Michael Smith as she addressed council on May 5. For three decades, Mr. Smith operated a petroleum distributor in Metro Vancouver and had been the only voice on council to vote against a motion opposing Kinder Morgan’s project. Now he was responsible for giving Ms. Kelsall the time to present her proposal to council.
“The mayor is coming around,” Ms. Gambioli said with a chuckle. “He made a fortune in oil and gas. He has grandkids now, so I’ve seen a softening in his dialogue.”