In a March council meeting, Coun. Zeb King put forward a motion for Central Saanich to declare a climate emergency, but it received short shrift. This week, just two months later and to the delight of campaigners, the motion was unanimously passed.
So what caused the shift in position? The answer appears to be youth activism. Since the turn of the year, there have been three school strikes on climate change, an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Victoria and globally coordinated youth protests. But what sealed the deal seems to have been the work of local students.
Coun. Niall Paltiel, who was initially against declaring a climate emergency, explains how the council went from lukewarm to unanimously endorsing the motion.
“We had a very moving presentation from a delegation of students from Bayside Middle School and Stelly’s Secondary urging Central Saanich council to work at regional, provincial and federal levels to find mutual ground where we can work together to address the impacts of climate change.”
“Ultimately, one thing that drove me to support the motion was reflecting on the fact these young people are speaking emphatically about the need to do more. One of the reasons I ran and am on council is I acknowledge the current challenges we’re facing today.”
King, who has been a strong supporter of environmental issues throughout his tenure on council says it was a struggle to maintain his composure listening to the students.
“It touched me very much,” he notes, “I think it had a clear impact on the declaration. From not much traction to now a shift and a unanimous declaration. I think it was probably an accumulation of things, like the students threatening strikes around the world and people realizing we need to act.”
Activists have credited the councillors for listening to their constituents and having the bravery to change their minds, but say more is still to be done. King tabled ten motions, one calling for the emergency declaration and the other nine detailing how Central Saanich could counter climate change. The emergency declaration motion was passed, but the other nine motions were referred back to committee; meaning while they haven’t been rejected outright, they are some way from being passed.
These motions include requests to work towards carbon neutrality by 2030, amend the Climate Leadership Plan, request the CRD does more to combat planet warming gasses, and for more powers and resources from the provincial and federal governments.
“It’s like our house is on fire,” says King wryly. “We’ve realized and said ‘Our house is on fire, it’s an emergency,’ but instead of putting it out, we’re doing other things.”