After having been ordered by the federal and provincial governments to build a sewage-treatment system, Greater Victoria politicians want to have their say in how the project develops. And so they should they are ultimately accountable to regional taxpayers for the success and failures of the system.The provincial and federal governments are funding two-thirds of the cost of the $783-million project, with the stipulation that municipal politicians step out of the way and let the construction and financing of the system be handled by a seven-person panel of experts.The majority of members of the Capital Regional Districts sewage committee balked at a bylaw that would create the commission, and are demanding more oversight over the project.Having an expert panel oversee the project is an excellent idea and would help avoid the nightmare of elected officials interfering and micro-managing. Being elected does not automatically give a person deep insights into the complexities of sewage treatment and the intricacies of finance. But council members were elected to safeguard the local public good. They cannot abdicate that responsibility, edicts from higher levels of government notwithstanding. The local officials are correct in seeking to retain some control over the project. If the project goes over budget and that happens all too often local taxpayers will have to pick up the extra costs. If something goes wrong, builders and designers could ultimately be held responsible, but its local government that will bear the brunt of the first assault.Those seeking more say in the sewage project are not asking for anything new. While municipal governments cannot function without the aid of experts in various fields finance, law, urban planning, land development, municipal administration those experts work with, and are answerable to, elected officials.The panel of experts will undoubtedly know sewage-treatment systems, but municipal council members know their communities. They are sensitive to local needs and issues. While technical expertise might dictate that a pipeline should go one way, local knowledge might dictate otherwise. Local involvement is needed to reconcile such issues. We cant assume the panel of experts would have all the answers.Its condescending on the part of the provincial government to say, as Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin phrases it: Dont worry your little pretty head, well take care of this. That goes against principles of democracy, not to mention common sense. Government bears constant watching, even if its one level of government watching another.The involvement of local government in this project needs to be at arms length, and those elected officials involved should tread lightly and carefully political interference can create a toxic brew but placing complete blind faith in an unelected panel, no matter how distinguished and knowledgeable, is not right.This is a project affecting almost everyone in the region it needs the input and reasonable oversight of local government.
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