Divestment discussion reaches municipal level

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On Jan. 12, students and citizens of Victoria packed the Downtown Community Centre for a town hall meeting on fossil fuel divestment. The event, named Our Dollars, Our Future, was organized in co-ordination with city councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday, as well as the UVic Students’ Society.

“It’s a great way to start a conversation,” said Loveday after the meeting. “The next thing we need to do is have the community organize around this issue. At city council, we’re moving to strategic planning now so if we want to get this to a strategic plan we need public pressure.”

Alongside the two council members, speakers included Kelsey Mech, the chairperson of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Nathalie Chambers of the Farmland Protection Coalition, former Green Party leader Joan Russow, as well as four representatives of the Native Students Union.

During their campaign, Isitt and Loveday worked with Divest UVic and spoke out on the issue of divestment within Victoria. Tristan Ryan, a third-year political science student and member of Divest UVic, said, “It was the councillors who took the leading role on [the meeting]. They had actually campaigned on pursuing something like this. But we were happy to hop on board. It’s essentially what we’re trying to do here but on a large scale with municipal funds. It’s hard to say no to helping out with that.”

Along with the issue of divestment, speakers touched on other issues surrounding the ethical spending of municipal funds. Topics such as genetically modified foods, military disarmament, and reinvestment of fracking funds to Indigenous communities were all discussed.

Greg Atkinson, the director of External Relations for the UVSS, attributed the reluctance of individuals to support divestment to Canada’s dependency on fossil fuels. Atkinson, who organized the town hall meeting, stated afterward that the effects of fossil fuel extraction on the environment are well-known. “[It] needs to stop,” he said. “Or at least, we need to look to alternative sources of energy. Something needs to be done and [divesting] is a very good way of communicating that message.”

The conversation will continue on Jan. 26 when UVic will host a forum on climate change and divestment. Panelists will include representatives from Divest UVic, Suncor Energy, the Vancouver Sun, the Carbon Tracker Initiative, and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.

“With an issue like divestment we’re kind of on a treadmill,” said Ryan. “You have to run pretty hard just to stay still sometimes.” However, Loveday felt the speakers were confident. “[UVic students] are the inspiration for this. It was activism on campus that made this event happen. It was activism during the campaign that made this happen now and has been the jumping off point for all this.”

No other municipality in Canada has divested its funds from fossil fuels, and when Loveday was asked if it’s possible for Victoria to become the first he replied, “Anything is possible. Even if we need to make changes at the provincial level to make it happen, I think there is an appetite to do that.”

More information on the upcoming UVic forum can be found at uvic.ca/climateforum

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