It took no time at all for the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment plans to percolate to the top of an Esquimalt-Royal Roads all-candidates meeting agenda Wednesday night.
The second question asked was how candidates planned to get the $783-million sewage treatment project on track.
All four candidates agreed — things have to change.
“The New Democrats believe we have to work with local government to make sure we get the right plant in the right place and that we consult with the public better,” said incumbent NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis.
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Liberal Chris Ricketts called sewage a galvanizing issue. The main problem is that the CRD did not adequately consult with the public first, he said. The plan is for the wrong site using the wrong technology and the CRD has to be told “we’re not going to take it,” he said. “They’re picking on Esquimalt.”
Green candidate Susan Low said the CRD’s process has been frustrating. Low said she favours a distributed model for treatment to optimize resource recovery.
“What I would certainly be doing is making sure the provincial funding comes with a requirement to optimize land-based treatment. … We absolutely have to have a sewage treatment process that is approved of by the people and bought into by the people.”
Independent candidate Josh Steffler drew applause when he called sewage treatment “a waste of time and a waste of money” that the region can’t afford.
“There’s numerous reports out there that we are treating our sewage. It’s not a dead zone at the sewage outfall. There’s lots of pictures of life that’s thriving there. … We have a public perception problem, not a sewage problem.”
About 100 attended the forum at Colwood’s Church of the Advent.
The night before, in the neighbouring Juan de Fuca riding, about 40 people turned up at Langford’s Isabelle Reader Theatre to hear the three candidates square off. The issue of sewage treatment was also raised.
Incumbent NDP MLA John Horgan said, though he believes sewage treatment is needed, the current project needs a re-think.
“It’s my view that we need to push the reset button on this question. There’s too much misinformation. There’s too much distrust of the process,” Horgan said.
Horgan is being challenged by B.C. Liberal candidate Kerrie Reay, a project manager with Corrections Canada, and Green candidate Carlos Serra, a Sooke councillor and ESL teacher.
Reay said her experience in Sooke, which built its own sewage treatment plant, is that it’s done right.
Serra said he wasn’t familiar with the CRD sewage issue.
Another topic was transportation, with Horgan saying Greater Victoria needs a regional transportation authority and must look at alternatives to buses.
Serra said the Green Party supports mass transit, and that he favours ride-share programs and HOV lanes.
Reay, who commutes daily by bus from Sooke to downtown Victoria, said she understands commuter frustrations.
“I think in partnership with the federal government we need to re-examine the McKenzie overpass,” she said, adding HOV lanes would also help.