It's a lot easier to get worked up about the prospect of oil tankers polluting the ocean than it is to pay another $400 a year in taxes in order to avoid fouling it yourself.
Which is why Victoria faces the bewildering prospect of listening to candidates from the Green Party of Canada and the federal Liberal Party, among others, explain why, all of a sudden, the current sewage-treatment plan is wrong.
Among the multitude of University of Victoria professors who are running to become the next Victoria MP, there's been a lot of academic hairsplitting about the never-ending sewage story.
The closer people get to making the decision that will inflict a hefty tax hike to make up for decades of ignoring the obvious problem, the easier it is to get cold feet.
And the byelection campaign has been a crystal-clear demonstration of how desperate candidates will get when it comes to avoiding tough decisions in order to pander to voters who want to do exactly the same thing.
Here's a non-scientific opinion from a layperson: Me.
Dumping raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean in the year 2012 is wrong. Even with all the excuses offered as to why Victoria is so special it doesn't need to bother doing what most other communities do, it doesn't feel right. It can't possibly be a net positive for the environment in the long run.
Relying on "the natural flushing action" of Juan de Fuca Strait to get rid of 130 million litres of wastewater a day is a policy from two generations ago, when we used to dump our garbage out there as well.
Scows dumped garbage off Ogden Point for 50 years, up to 1958. By the 1940s, much of it would float back on to the beaches. It got so bad the Victoria Daily Times in 1944 sarcastically suggested cutting out a step and just dumping garbage on the beaches.
The official response was classic: The city spent years buying better crushing machines to grind garbage up so less of it would float. Then they considered just dumping it further out.
The arguments ran for years, and it took until 1958 to end ocean dumping. The story - in Janis Ringuette's beaconhillparkhistory.org - is uncomfortably close to the sewage story being written today.
And the strangest chapter in that tale is the most recent one, where some federal candidates are tripping over themselves when it comes to backing away from the long march toward a treatment plant.
It was only a few elections ago that the federal Greens were keen to own the sewage issue.
Then-leader Jim Harris held a news conference at Clover Point to point out how unacceptable the status quo was.
Current leader Elizabeth May worked the same issue for years. But faced with the need to get votes, she and her candidate Donald Galloway are waffling. Now he's against rushing into anything. The current plan will "create an economic nightmare," he says.
It wasn't that long ago that federal Liberal leader StÃ©phane Dion was mad keen for sewage treatment, to the point where he was contradicting his own local MP on the need to start treatment.
Now, Liberal candidate Paul Summerville snaps "billion-dollar boondoggle" every time he's asked about the issue. And Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau backs him up, saying Wednesday he's listening to UVic scientists who say it isn't money well spent.
Similarly, Stephen Harper committed to sewage treatment in the recent past, and later put money down as prime minister to back up the promise.
But this week, his rattled Conservative candidate, Dale Gann, flip-flopped and abandoned his earlier stand in favour of treatment, saying the project needs "sober second thought."
The only candidate with a shot at winning who is holding to the idea that the time has come for treatment is the NDP's Murray Rankin. "I think it's time to get on with it," he said. But even he is being as circumspect as possible, talking about exaggerated cost estimates and ways to possibly do it cheaper.
It's not like these candidates are backtracking all by themselves. Obviously, the voters are driving them to these positions. It's a prime example of the big gulf between the duty to listen to people and the need to show leadership on a problem that will never go away, and gets more expensive the longer action is put off.
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