DEBATE: Oil & Gas Divestment in Canada - Part 2

oil and gas divestment debate march 2023

Does divesting from responsible Canadian oil and gas production hurt or help our families, Indigenous communities, global energy security and the environment? Is the "divest from Canadian energy" movement actually accomplishing anything, or is it more empty symbolism from opponents that will do nothing to make the world a better place?

Mike Smyth, host of The Mike Smyth Show on 980 CKNW out of Vancouver, joins Cody Battershill, Founder and Chief Spokesperson of Canada Action, to discuss the merits of oil and gas divestment in Canada.


Or, keep reading for everything said between Cody and Jillian Maguire, a teacher in British Columbia below. Also see:

Is Divesting from Oil & Gas in Canada the Right Way to Go?

oil and gas divestment in canada - yes or no

Mike: All right, here we go now with our great oil and gas divestment debate.

Now, what is divestment? What is the movement around it when it comes to climate change and fossil fuels?

Well, it is the movement to divest from oil and gas related companies, largely in public sector pension plans.

So this is a movement that's been going on around the world. Very timely issue today, especially with the release of the latest United Nations report on climate change. The UN reporting today that the planet is in survival mode.

Here with the latest impacts of climate change. Got a great panel standing by to discuss this for you, both sides of it.

Have a listen to this here first. Now, this is May Boovie, the Executive Director of the environmental group on divestment. Have a listen.

May: The divestment movement is about something quite simple. If it's wrong to cause climate change, it's wrong to profit from causing climate change.

And the divestment movement has taken off all over the world with this as its rallying cry. A growing number of investors representing a growing amount of capital do not want to be associated with this industry any longer.

It is a rogue industry.

Mike: All right, let's discuss it now with my guest, Jillian Maguire.

Jillian is a Vancouver school teacher running for president of the BC Teachers Federation.

Very pleased to welcome Jillian. Thank you very much for coming on.

Jillian: Thank you. Hi. You bet.

Mike: Thanks. It's going good. Thanks for doing it.

Also on the line is Cody Battershill. Cody is the founder of Canada Action, which is a pro oil and gas advocacy group.

Cody, thank you for coming on.

Cody: Hey, Mike, thanks for having me. And hi to Jillian too.

Mike: Okay, thank you to both. Thank you to both of you.

Okay, very nice. Polite beginning here. That's good.

Okay, Jillian, let me go to you first. You're a school teacher. You're running for president of the union. Tell me about how you were asking for the BC teachers pension to divest. Right? Tell me about that.

Jillian: Absolutely. Yeah So I've taught for 27 years, and I just think as teachers, we have a moral obligation to protect our students' futures, and we're not doing that with our current pension contributions.

Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, said two years ago that what we do in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity.

So, yeah, I just think we really have to get to work here and take care of this pension business.

Mike: What is the situation with the BC teachers pension plan right now. Does it actually invest in oil and gas companies?

Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. We have over half a billion dollars invested in oil and gas, and we did pass a resolution last year at the 2022 AGM to lobby for divestment.

There are several steps that have to go on before divestment will start, but since that resolution was passed, we really have taken very little action.

Mike: Okay. Cody, Battershill, Canada. Action. What do you think of this divestment movement?

Cody: Well, I think we need to take a pragmatic approach. Divestment targeting Western, publicly traded companies only helps other non-Western, non-democratic producers like Russia, Saudi Arabia, OPEC members. So that's a big problem.

And ever since this divestment movement has started, what's happened? Oil and natural gas demand continues to increase. So we really need to be talking about consumption rather than just getting out of the producers.

And what are these producers in Canada doing? They're trying to lower their emissions. They're investing in clean technology, working with Indigenous communities, and generating a trillion dollars for Canadian social service programs from 2000 to 2032.

So divesting from Canadian producers actually doesn't reduce emissions and it doesn't support those other things I mentioned. I think we need a different approach if we want to actually reduce emissions.

Mike: Jillian, what do you say to that?

Jillian: Well, [organization] just released their report on Friday, and they looked at engagement and they said that it just really doesn't work.

For example, the carbon capture, it's not as effective. No company has been able to make it as effective as they need it to be.

And so companies are invested less and less in these kind of carbon capture processes. So engagement doesn't work. And the... report was really clear.

They're recommending, well, this is for financial reasons that we divest, but morally, as teachers, we know that we can't be investing in the destruction of our students future.

Mike: Do you think most teachers, Jillian, agree with you? I guess these oil and gas companies, haven't they been a good investment for the teachers pension fund over the years that have created a lot of return for teachers in their retirement?

Jillian: No, actually, a recent study by Corporate Knights found that we would likely have $18,000 more per member if we divested ten years ago.

Mike: Cody, what do you say to that?

Cody: I mean... and Corporate Knights are both well known anti-Canadian oil and gas groups. So we have to take what they're saying with a bit of a grain of salt, so to speak.

The reality is, if we're talking about the moral case, the moral case is supporting local Canadian families, local Canadian public sector revenues, and as long as the world needs oil and natural gas, it should be coming from Canada.

There was no movement to block oil tankers from Saudi Arabia or investment in these other countries that I've mentioned, and that's who has benefited from fossil fuel divestment?

You have no chance at reducing emissions and in protecting the environment if you do not start with energy security. And so we need to do all of the above at the same time, supporting wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, oil and natural gas to meet growing demand for people who want to have the things that we have in Canada, who don't currently have that in other countries like India and around the world where they're developing.

We need a pragmatic approach, and divestment is not pragmatic and it's not a solution.

Mike: Jillian? Go ahead.

Jillian: Okay, a pragmatic approach. I mean, we've known this that we need to start this process for 30 years.

So if we had a pragmatic approach, we would have been doing it a long time ago and starting our transition.

And now what we're in is we're in a place where the IPCC was very clear in their report that we have to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure and we have to reduce our emissions by 50% in the next seven years.

So what that means is anybody in grade, any student in grade five right now, by the time they graduate, our emissions have to be down 50%. Canada is, I think at last I checked, third in per capita emissions right behind Saudi Arabia.

I disagree with what Cody said.

Mike: How will divestment, though? Like, if the BC teachers federation was to pull all their pension plan money out of all oil and gas companies, how would that make a difference?

Because, like Cody just said, that demand for oil and gas is continuing to go up. So wouldn't it just keep going up even if the teachers fund pulls their money out of these companies? Jillian?

Jillian: Well, sure, it might do, but we wouldn't be contributing to the destruction of our students' futures financially.

Mike: Okay, so you're thinking like, this is kind of like a moral or ethical position to take. It's not really going to change anything, but you shouldn't be it will change our investments.

Jillian: I don't have any control over what other pension plans do. I don't have any control over what individuals do and where they put their money, but I want to have control over where I put my money.

And right now, a lot of every paycheck, it's around eleven and a half percent that is going to a crown corporation that heavily invests in fossil fuel companies.

Mike: Okay, Cody, a quick response, then we'll fit a break in here. Go ahead.

Cody: Yeah, I mean, Canadian oil and natural gas is Canada's largest export. It's a huge supporter of our public services. That's first and foremost.

And if we don't invest in Canadian oil and gas, it's a symbolic gesture. Other countries benefit. Divestment does not reduce demand. It does not improve our energy security.

What about the Indigenous communities that want to export liquefied natural gas with the lowest emissions on Earth to meet growing demand?

It's not a pragmatic solution. It's not reasonable, it's not reducing emissions. It's silly, to be honest. We should be supporting Canadian jobs, period.

Mike: Okay, guys. Jillian, I know you want to respond to that, but let's fit in the break here right now, okay? And then we will come back with more.

All right, we continue with our divestment debate. Should the BC teachers fund, teachers federation pension fund pull out of oil and gas companies?

Jillian Maguire, running for president of the BCTF. Jillian says they should.

Cody Battershill, Canada. Action. He's on the other side.

Tons of phone calls here. Keith in Langley. Hey, Keith. Go ahead.

Keith: Hi. I just thought I'd comment. I was just driving in the car.

I am in complete agreement with Cody. I think the belief that oil and gas is going to disappear quickly is untrue. It's going to be here for decades, and I think producing it here with our standards is what's wiser thing to do.

So I think by divesting is the wrong way to go.

Mike: Okay, thank you for that.

Jillian, what do you say to that point that if you pull public sector pension funds out of oil and gas, you're just helping, like, Saudi Arabia, you're helping foreign producers? How do you answer that?

Jillian: I wasn't exactly sure that what he said. I thought he said that divesting doesn't affect consumption or whether or not it goes up and down, but I'll answer anyway.

I think that as teachers, we need to lead by example. And if we are supporting the fossil fuel companies that will seriously damage our students' futures, then we're just not setting a good example. We really need to do this. Yeah.

Cody: Mike. Yeah. I would just say that empty symbolism that's not reducing demand and is only helping other countries around the world where they don't treat people or the environment the way we do in Canada, with no benefit for our local education system and public spending.

That's not the way to go.

We should be teaching our children about the facts of global energy demand, how we do things in Canada, and that we can protect the environment, reduce emissions, and support our local economy and the Indigenous community all at the same time. Okay.

Mike: Jillian? Jillian, go ahead.

Jillian: Okay, so, number one, with all our investments and all this profit we're making from oil and gas.

I've been teaching for 27 years, and education funding has essentially been cut in half. It used to be 3.7% of GDP. Now it's about 1.8% of GDP.

So we are not investing any of this oil and gas money in the education of our children. And I forgot what I was going to what was the second part of that comment?

Mike: Well, you're not going to drive down demand for oil and gas by doing this.

Jillian: Yeah, well, that's to be seen. Let's take our money out of oil and gas and see if we do drive down demand. I mean, we have to get our societies are incredibly addicted to oil and gas.

And these studies have been out for years. We've known for years that this addiction was going to be damaging to our future, and we at some point have to do something about it.

I don't think that setting an example is empty symbolism. I think it's what we do when we lead children, we lead by example.

And I think as teachers, we absolutely can teach society to decrease our carbon footprint.

Mike: Okay, Cody, what do you say to that?

Cody: Canada is a leader in wind. We're a leader in hydro. We're a leader in non emitting power generation.

We should be teaching our children it's wrong to be buying resources from countries that don't respect human rights first and foremost, and that Canada is leading the charge in reducing emissions.

Emissions per barrel is down. Investment in clean technology is up. There's so much more to the story than just selling some shares that someone else buys.

And now you don't have a seat at the table to talk to these companies about what they're continuing to do to improve their record even further.

I just think we need to be pragmatic about it.

Mike: Go ahead, Jillian.

Jillian: Yeah, you talked about human rights. BCI, which is actually has no Indigenous rights policy.

They don't require companies that they invest in to have any policy around free prior and informed consent from First Nations that they will do work on. And so that's actually the... report.

Mike: What about First Nations, though? That supports, what about First Nations, though, Jillian who support LNG development?

We've only got a minute left here, but there are lots of First Nations in BC who are in the LNG business. Don't you hurt them by divesting. Go ahead. We got a minute left here.

Jillian: And I think that's just kind of the oldest trick in the book, right? Divide communities.

And this is pretty much what we're doing. Okay. I don't really want to speak for Indigenous people, but I do think that our crown corporation should have an Indigenous rights policy.

Mike: Okay, we got 30 seconds left. Cody, go ahead. Real quick.

Cody: I just say as long as the world needs oil and natural gas, it should be coming from Canada.

We've got a proven track record in reducing our emissions. We're going to need all sources for years to come.

And divestment does not reduce demand. It only helps other producers. And there's a better path forward learning and working together.

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