Mountains From Molehills

Petroleum lovers target council’s environmental agenda

City Hall by Paul Dechene

You probably heard about the sponsorship clusterfuck mess that dominated council’s Jan. 27 meeting. Long story short, at Executive Committee on Jan. 20, ward 6 councillor Dan LeBlanc proposed restricting the ability of fossil fuel companies to enter sponsorship or advertising agreements with the City Of Regina. That amendment passed seven to four.

Premier Scott Moe responded by leaping into the void left by Donald Trump’s Twitter ban and threat-tweeted the $32 million the city receives in utility surcharges and the sponsorship deals it has with provincial crowns.

From there, all hell broke loose.

John Gormley gleefully tweeted in the wake of the motion’s passage “#YQRCC get ready for a world of hurt”1#YQRCC is a twitter hashtag that means Regina City Council then dedicated much of his Jan. 21 show to deriding the “Gang Of Five” radical left-wing councillors responsible for this insult to Saskatchewan’s oil and gas sector.2I could write an entire 5,000-word essay breaking down how messed up the Jan. 21 Gormley Show was. Instead, I’m going to do a couple of quick points in a footnote: 1. Gormley’s guest right before Mayor Masters was climate change denier Patrick Moore. Moore was the guy the city picked to be their keynote speaker at their COVID-aborted Renewable City conference. Moore’s talk was cancelled due to community outrage over the city picking a climate denier to headline their event on making Regina emission neutral. 2. While Gormley had nothing good to say about the Gang Of Five (Councillors LeBlanc, Mohl, Stadnichuk, Stevens and Zachidniak), the bulk of his opprobrium was reserved for Councillor Mancinelli. Gormley couldn’t get past the fact that Mancinelli runs an auto-repair shop and also voted in a way that Gorm’s felt insulted the oil sector. While Gormley writes off the Gang as leftist loons, he treated Mancinelli’s vote as a betrayal. Countless editorials were written about how ill-advised LeBlanc’s motion was, in everything from the Leader Post to the Pipeline News. The Regina & District Chamber of Commerce put together an online comment form so that one could express their disappointment with council with the push of a button, and many Krusty The Klowns and Vladimir Putins obliged.

Estevan city council issued a formal welcome to the oil and gas sector as a rebuke to the Queen City’s sponsorship snobbery.

Local Twitter and Facebook threads were afire with how LeBlanc’s motion was a bad, bad, no good, horrible idea.

You can’t have missed it.

In a year of unprecedented #YQRCC news (incumbent mayor defeated, four progressive councillors elected), this was the most unprecedentedest.

The outrage was so loud and so overwhelmingly negative — even some progressive-leaning commenters were saying this was not the hill they wanted to die on — even councillors who’d voted in favour of the motion were jumping on social media to say they’d be flipping their vote at council. LeBlanc himself announced he’d retract the motion when council met on Jan. 27.

And that’s exactly what happened. After 18 delegations took us on a taste-tour of the various flavours of outrage council had faced over the previous week,3Five delegations either spoke in support of LeBlanc’s amendment or stated they were supportive of the spirit of the amendment but didn’t feel this was the right way to go about achieving the city’s sustainability goals. council voted unanimously to disappear Leblanc’s sponsorship amendment.

But while the pushback against LeBlanc’s motion was much louder and acrimonious and more Gormlified than other council controversies, underneath it all, the motion was kinda how things are supposed to work.

Executive Committee is a first pass at city policies. It’s supposed to be where amendments and free ranging discussions can happen.4During her Gormley appearance, Mayor Masters explained that her problem with LeBlanc’s amendment was that it was a “walk-on motion” that lacked sufficient contextual information. She noted that she didn’t like such walk-on motions. And yet, back in December, when Councillor Stevens brought a walk-on motion to the floor of council, she stated she would not vote in favour of it because, “there was ample discussion and ample time to have this conversation in an open forum that would have encouraged dialogue at Executive [Committee]. I am not a fan of the walk-on amendments.” That sounds very much like Masters saying that motions like LeBlanc’s should be discussed at Executive.  And anything that comes out of Executive is just a recommendation. That’s true of every committee of council.

And in the light of outraged feedback, angry delegations and any other new information, votes can and do flip when those committee recommendations make it to council.

It’s a thing about the goings-on at city hall that gets lost sometimes. Occasionally I’ll hear people gripe that there wasn’t any public consultation on a particular issue, just some committee and council meetings. But committee meetings and council meetings ARE public consultation. That’s why they’re public and why you’re allowed to speak at them.

But while this process was superficially ordinary, the specifics of how it played out unfortunately signal rocky days ahead for this city council.

Two of the most vociferous delegations to speak against LeBlanc’s motion were Tyler Willox (in his words, “a taxpaying citizen of Regina”) and Craig Lothian from Keystone Royalty Corp and Lex Capital Management.

If those names are familiar, it could be because they came up in reporting of the 2019 federal election. They were two of the people involved with the Canada Growth Council’s WestWatch campaign which paid for billboards calling for Ralph Goodale’s ouster.

The CGC is widely credited with getting Michael Kram elected in Regina-Wascana. And it’s credit Lothian is happy to accept as, after I noted his connection to CGC on Twitter, he replied, “The $10K that I paid for that billboard, was almost as gratifying as the $1.0MM that we donated to the @PattisonKids Children’s Hospital. Both made SK a decidedly better place. @MichaelKramSK has defended #SK more in his 1st yr, than Ralph did in the last 5 years. #LiberalsHateSK”

He and Willox clearly want to keep Saskatchewan unanimously pro-fossil fuels, and they are representative of an oil-and-gas fan club that has the deep pockets needed to agitate widely for that agenda.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that in the immediate wake of LeBlanc’s motion, a pro-oil industry campaign targeting Regina city council appeared online.

The campaign is called Advance Regina and it seems very much in the Canada Growth Council mold. The Advance Regina website lays out its raison d’être

“Regina’s new city council is in danger of being overrun by left-wing activists. The recent attack on Saskatchewan’s energy industry by some councillors is a slap in the face to the employers and workers at energy companies that make Regina and our province prosperous.… it’s clear this new city council needs to be put on notice.”

While it’s always great to see citizens take an interest in the goings on at city hall, this particular development should be worrying to anyone who supports Regina’s commitment to becoming a renewable city by 2050.

Based on the delegations that turned up on Jan. 27, the Advance Regina crowd is not likely to applaud efforts to get local emissions to net zero in a reasonable, climate-disaster-stopping timeline. Hell, plans to make the city more bike- and pedestrian friendly are likely to earn their scorn if those measures are seen as somehow inconveniencing car traffic.

While the Advance Regina social media channels went quiet after taking a victory lap on Jan. 28, you can expect to see them lay fallow for four years, occasionally popping up to agitate against anything they deem offensive, then coming out swinging for the next election.

Municipal elections get decided by very small numbers of voters and any motivated and halfway organized campaign can get a candidate elected. It could very well be that the legacy of The Great Sponsorship Policy Clusterfuck Mess Of 2021 is to see the current council — arguably the most progressive in a generation — flip in 2024 to become the most regressive and environmentally contrary council we’ve ever seen.

[1] #YQRCC is a twitter hashtag that means Regina City Council.

[2] I could write an entire 5,000-word essay breaking down how messed up the Jan. 21 Gormley Show was. Instead, I’m going to do a couple of quick points in a footnote: 1. Gormley’s guest right before Mayor Masters was climate change denier Patrick Moore. Moore was the guy the city picked to be their keynote speaker at their COVID-aborted Renewable City conference. Moore’s talk was cancelled due to community outrage over the city picking a climate denier to headline their event on making Regina emission neutral. 2. While Gormley had nothing good to say about the Gang Of Five (Councillors LeBlanc, Mohl, Stadnichuk, Stevens and Zachidniak), the bulk of his opprobrium was reserved for Councillor Mancinelli. Gormley couldn’t get past the fact that Mancinelli runs an auto-repair shop and also voted in a way that Gorm’s felt insulted the oil sector. While Gormley writes off the Gang as leftist loons, he treated Mancinelli’s vote as a betrayal.

[3] Five delegations either spoke in support of LeBlanc’s amendment or stated they were supportive of the spirit of the amendment but didn’t feel this was the right way to go about achieving the city’s sustainability goals.

[4] During her Gormley appearance, Mayor Masters explained that her problem with LeBlanc’s amendment was that it was a “walk-on motion” that lacked sufficient contextual information. She noted that she didn’t like such walk-on motions. And yet, back in December, when Councillor Stevens brought a walk-on motion to the floor of council, she stated she would not vote in favour of it because, “there was ample discussion and ample time to have this conversation in an open forum that would have encouraged dialogue at Executive [Committee]. I am not a fan of the walk-on amendments.” That sounds very much like Masters saying that motions like LeBlanc’s should be discussed at Executive.