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Report on Business Energy firms back out of Whistler conference after mayor calls for climate-change compensation

A gondola in Whistler, B.C. on Dec. 3, 2016. CIBC hosts its annual Whistler Investment Conference in January.

Rafal Gerszak/Globe and Mail

Energy companies are pulling out of a high-profile investment conference held in Whistler, B.C., after its mayor called for Canada’s largest oil and gas producer to compensate the mountain town for the effects of climate change.

The letter from Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton asks Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. president Tim McKay to “begin taking financial responsibility for the climate-related harm caused in our community by your products.” One of the impacts has been increased spending on wildfire protection, he wrote.

The missive fanned a polarizing debate between green groups and the oil industry, which has been struggling to convince Canadians that its inability to add pipeline capacity and garner higher prices for fossil fuels amid environmental pushback has caused job losses and other economic disruption.

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The ripple effect spread to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which hosts its annual Whistler Investment Conference in January. It is a premier event at which institutional investors hear presentations from dozens of public companies, many of them in the energy sector.

PrairieSky Royalty Ltd. and Gibson Energy Inc. are among companies that have opted to back out of the event in response to the letter. CNRL has also withdrawn from the conference and others are said to be following suit.

“We’ve been there every year since our initial public offering in 2014, both to support our industry partners as well as CIBC, but given the letter that was sent to CNRL from the mayor of Whistler, we won’t spend our time and shareholders’ dollars at an event in Whistler this year,” said Cameron Proctor, PrairieSky’s chief operating officer.

Mr. Proctor said the company does not want to harm CIBC, but it wants to send the message that energy is a major contributor to the Canadian economy, including Whistler and its lush ski locales.

A CIBC executive spoke in support of the sector. “The Canadian energy industry has been a global leader of responsible energy development. We are committed to our clients in the energy sector as they play a key role in driving the Canadian economy,” said Roman Dubczak, managing director and head of global investment banking.

There is no evidence that CNRL, specifically, affects climate more than any other producer; it was chosen as a target for symbolic reasons. Other West Coast communities have sent similar letters to oil companies, including Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Saudi Aramco, as part of an initiative by West Coast Environmental Law.

The campaign challenges “these companies and their shareholders to grapple with their business model and what it means to take ‘cradle to grave’ responsibility for products that are destroying the health of our global atmosphere,” WCEL said in a statement on its website.

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Mr. Crompton was at a town council retreat on Thursday and not available for comment. But in a statement he said his council sees combating climate change as a “multi-faceted challenge” and that all levels of government, industries and individuals are responsible for solving the problems and dealing with the costs.

Mr. Crompton acknowledged people are able to visit Whistler because of fossil fuels, and that hundreds of thousands of people work in the industry. These employees are “proud of the work they do responsibly producing Canada’s resources and … thousands of those workers have made a choice to vacation in our community. Our goal was to draw attention to climate change. In no way was our aim to cause anyone to feel unwelcome in Whistler,” he said.

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