B.C. cities seek to end oily investments

UBCM vote calls for alternative, despite challenges

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt speaks to resolution on fossil fuel-free investing at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

B.C. mayors and councillors voted Thursday to push for an ability to channel their cities’ investments into fossil fuel-free funds to fit their commitments to climate action.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the aim is to create a new option for cities that want socially responsible investments, but without forcing others to make the same choice.

“If a council so chooses to go ahead and use the finances at their disposal to support the energy systems of the last century they can by all means do so,” Sechelt Coun. Noel Muller said. “But for those of us who wish to move ahead with it we want that option.”

The Municipal Finance Authority of B.C. is the central financing agency for municipalities and regional districts.

It’s studied the idea of divestment from fossil fuels but has so far concluded it would run the risk of generating inferior returns at greater risk from taxpayer dollars.

“It’s complicated, it isn’t as easy as some people think,” said Cariboo Regional District board chair Al Richmond.

He noted other public sector organizations, including universities, have also explored the idea of fossil fuel divestment in recent years but have backed away from it after careful consideration.

Richmond said fossil fuel-free investing may be more viable in equity funds, but MFA hasn’t found another public sector organization in the world that has implemented it in the fixed-income investments that municipalities are required to use.

MFA is required to act in the best interests of its member communities, Richmond added.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said MFA’s definition of the members’ best interests should be broadened to include “the health of ecosystems in communities and the health of future generations.”

The resolution narrowly passed in an electronic vote with 51.6 per cent in favour.

According to an MFA report this month, determining what exactly counts as fossil fuel free may be challenging.

Many big oil companies are also the largest investors in renewable energy, so “excluding them also excludes opportunities to invest in fossil fuel alternatives.”

It also noted many standalone renewable firms have below investment grade credit ratings so MFA is barred from buying their bonds.