Victoria byelection Conservative candidate Dale Gann went against his own party Thursday by rejecting the proposed $783-million secondary sewage treatment plant for the capital region.
Gann originally supported his government's decision to fund one-third of the proposed facility, based on federal regulations that came into effect this year and a provincial order in 2006 requiring secondary treatment in the region.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised the funding in 2006 and the Conservative government delivered on that promise this year, pledging a $253.4-million contribution toward the McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant and marine outfall in Esquimalt by 2018.
However, Gann flip-flopped on the issue Thursday, saying he has listened to people on the doorstep, in coffee shops and in senior homes - and the resounding message is clear: "Not this plan, not now."
"That is a tough thing for me to do," Gann conceded in an interview. "I know our prime minister and our federal government and the ministries of environment at both the federal and provincial levels do not want Canada's reputation to be polluting and there's rules. But I think in this circumstance, [the plan] requires a sober second thought."
Gann said an MP's job is to bring the voices of constituents to Ottawa, not vice versa. He said he has talked to marine scientists and been told that the effect of screened sewage being shot out into the sea under the current system is negligible. The bigger problem arises from chemicals and pharmaceuticals entering the ocean through the region's aging storm sewers.
"There isn't a marine scientist that believes there is scientific evidence that the current proposed plan is right," Gann said. "They are saying categorically: 'Mother Nature is taking care of it [but] Mother Nature will not take care of it forever.' "
The argument is that the region's unique ocean currents adequately disperse the 129 million litres of screened sewage discharged each day from the region.
Gann is now among three mainstream party candidates opposed to the plan. That leaves only NDP candidate Murray Rankin, an environmental lawyer, in support of it.
Rankin admits the current proposal for the treatment plant is not perfect.
But he said it's what we have, it has two-thirds funding from the provincial and federal governments, and the region can't be exempted from the federal regulations. Rankin said the issue has been studied for decades and it's time to "just get on with it."
Green party candidate Donald Galloway takes the opposite tack, saying the region shouldn't rush into such an expensive plan and should rather err on the side of caution. He's not in favour of the treatment plan in its current form, and said an environmental assessment is first needed.
Liberal party candidate Paul Summerville breathed new life into the anti-secondary sewage treatment forces when he launched his campaign with a no-holds barred rejection of the proposal, calling it a "billion-dollar boondoggle."
Summerville maintains the Capital Regional District could get an exemption from current federal wastewater regulations simply by having the region designated as a lower wastewater risk.
Art Lowe, the Libertarian Party candidate, said he's been opposed to the sewage plan since Day One.
"It is sad that our political class flips and flops depending on which way the political wind blows, rather than taking a principled stand on issues and sticking to it," Lowe said.
The byelection to replace Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie, who stepped down in August for health reasons, is set for Nov. 26.
There are six people in the race, including Philip G. Ney of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada.
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