Regina councillor says premier should 'stay in his lane' after fossil fuel sponsorship debate

A Regina city councillor is pushing back at Scott Moe, after a council executive committee decision resulted in the premier threatening to pull Crown corporation support to the city. 

City's executive committee voted 7-4 to prohibit sale of naming rights to fossil fuel producers

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called a proposed amendment to the city's naming rights policy 'absurd,' and threatened to withhold millions in municipal surcharges if it passes at next week's city council meeting. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

A Regina city councillor is pushing back at Scott Moe, after a council executive committee decision resulted in the premier threatening to pull Crown corporation support to the city. 

Coun. Dan LeBlanc's comments come after a Wednesday vote by city council's executive committee on naming, sponsorship and advertising rights with the city. Under current city rules, tobacco, cannabis, pornography and alcohol companies cannot pay for naming rights to city buildings. 

LeBlanc, the city councillor for Ward 6, proposed an amendment that would add fossil fuel producers and sellers to the list, meaning oil and gas companies such as Federated Co-operatives Limited or Shell wouldn't be able to pay to put their logos on public parks and buildings within the city. The companies would still be able to advertise within city limits. 

"The City of Regina has been quite clear in recent years that one of our values is environmental sustainability," LeBlanc told CBC Radio's Morning Edition in a Thursday interview. 

"It is inconsistent with our stated values to be associated with companies that continue to rely on and promote these sort of high-carbon energy sources."

The amendment was debated and passed 7-4 Wednesday, with Mayor Sandra Masters and councillors Lori Bresciani (Ward 4), John Findura (Ward 5) and Terina Shaw (Ward 7) opposed.

The proposal would still need to be approved at the Jan. 27 city council meeting to take effect. 

Moe quickly weighed in Wednesday, issuing a statement calling the amendment "absurd." If it passes, Moe said his government will "seriously consider the future of sponsorships to the City of Regina from provincial energy companies like SaskEnergy and SaskPower." 

"This motion is a hypocritical attack on the hard-working workers and employers that fuel Saskatchewan's economy and fund important community initiatives through voluntary sponsorships," Moe said. 

The premier added that if the motion passes, he will assume the city no longer wants to receive its share of municipal surcharges from SaskPower and SaskEnergy, "which could instead be distributed to other Saskatchewan municipalities."

Coun. LeBlanc replied Thursday.

"Mr. Moe should stay in his lane and stay out of municipal politics," he said. "Frankly, I would think he has bigger fish to fry with his handling of the COVID crisis."

Fossil fuel companies could be added to a list -- along with tobacco and alcohol corporations -- of businesses that cannot sponsor events or properties with the City of Regina. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took issue with that. 11:03

LeBlanc said Moe's handling of the months-long lockout of workers at Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex shows the premier doesn't stand with workers.

He also argued threatening the municipal surcharge doesn't make sense, as that's an amount taken from Regina residents to put into local funds. 

"It lacks credibility in terms of standing with workers. And I think it's also profoundly unfair to Regina residents to think about that sort of thing, given that we pay for it."

Dan LeBlanc said the city has shown its commitment to being sustainable, and prohibiting advertisement and sponsorships from fossil fuel companies is a natural extension of that. (City of Regina/Website)

LeBlanc said it's not hypocritical to use SaskPower while moving toward renewable energy. He said he hopes his fellow councillors will not be swayed by Moe's statement or be "bullied out of that position." 

The Opposition also criticized the Premier. Matt Love, NDP critic for Municipal Affairs, said Moe's statement isn't how the province expects different levels of government to work together. 

"It is shocking that the premier would use his position to bully another level of government and threaten funding to the citizens of Regina," Love said. "We are dealing with a deadly pandemic that has taken dozens of lives in Regina alone. Now is not the time for threats and bluster."

Chamber of commerce, Federated Co-operatives criticize vote 

The Regina and District Chamber of Commerce said it strongly disagrees with a restriction on energy companies. In a statement, the chamber's president said the committee is turning up its nose at one of the most important economic anchors in Saskatchewan. 

"To restrict the energy sector's ability to share its success in promoting our city and the many sporting and cultural events it provides is very short sighted and sends the wrong message," John Hopkins said. 

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. which operates the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina, said in a statement that they wanted to thank the mayor and councillors who voted against the motion. It said those council members knew the investments FCL is making toward a low-carbon economy in the future. 

"This is not a time for divisive policies, but a time to work together," Pam Skotnitsky, FCL's vice-president of strategy said. "We continue to invest heavily to ensure our businesses are sustainable. If the goal is sustainability, then businesses need to be part of the discussion and solution."

Regina's Co-op Refinery is run by Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (CBC)

"It's disappointing that a number of city councillors believe that companies involved in fossil fuels and oil and gas are somehow bad for our community and its citizens," she said. "What the passing of this motion is saying to us, and others is the energy industry, is that our money is suddenly no good in the City of Regina. This is unfortunate and extremely disappointing."

Skotnitsky said it encourages the councillors to reconsider when they vote next week. Regardless of the vote, she said FCL will remain committed to the city. 

Marketing prof. says if passed, motion may not change much

When looking at the implications of not allowing fossil fuel producers and sellers to sponsor and name city buildings, a University of Saskatchewan professor said it might not change much. 

Her expertise is in how advertising and marketing communicates with consumers. 

"The city would be quite limited in what they could allow or not allow," said Barbara Phillips, a professor of marketing at the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business. "So I think this seems a largely symbolic gesture in the sense that you can still have a billboard in the city or they could still sponsor any kind of event that was a private event," Phillips said.

I feel like sometimes advertising is an easy place to make that statement instead of other difficult decisions that would have more impact.- Barbara Phillips, professor at the University of Saskatchewan

Because there aren't many sponsorships throughout city buildings specifically, Phillips said this may not have a large impact.

LeBlanc's suggestion that the values of the city should match the values of the companies it works with is a common thread in co-branding advertisements, Phillips said. 

"When you have a sponsorship, what happens is that two partners come together and they mutually influence each other," Phillips said. 

Phillips said she couldn't find other municipalities that have a similar stance toward fossil fuel producers, but she also couldn't find any city events sponsored by, or buildings named after, energy companies. 

"I feel like sometimes advertising is an easy place to make that statement instead of other difficult decisions that would have more impact," Phillips said. 

Work with progressive companies: Mancinelli

Coun. Jason Mancinelli (Ward 9) said he's hoping for changes to the wording of the amendment to show support for companies that are transitioning to renewable energy and products. 

Mancinelli was one of the seven who voted yes to the amendment, but said he supports and relies on the oil and gas sector for his own personal livelihood. 

"I wanted to co-operate in the movement of things towards a greener future for Regina. And I wanted to bring some insight and some wisdom to not be derogatory, knowing that you have to also respect how we got here."

It has totally labelled people anti-oil and gas, which isn't the case.- Ward 9 Coun. Jason Mancinelli

He said he'd be in favour of naming rights being sold to oil and gas companies that are investing billions into renewable resources and working toward renewable energy products, such as electric cars. If that isn't changed, then Mancinelli said he will vote against the motion at the full council meeting next Wednesday.

"This was a work in progress, not a finished paper policy document.… It has totally labelled people anti-oil and gas, which isn't the case," he said.

"Many of the companies we rely on are very progressive and we want them to be partners as they are transitioning."

Jason Mancinelli is the Ward 9 city councillor in Regina. He said he isn't anti-oil and gas, but does want to support companies making investments in renewable energy. (City of Regina)

Mancinelli said he was surprised when Moe weighed in on an unfinished policy. 

"It seems like low-hanging fruit, a distraction at best," he said. "I can see his viewpoint. I think he has a responsibility to protect those industries and I respect him for that. But for this situation … I think it's out of context."

Mancinelli said Moe's statement was heavy-handed but he believes that the premier would make cuts to the city's funding if the proposal is approved with the current wording. 

With files from Mickey Djuric and The Morning Edition


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