Jack Knox: We’re not stalling on sewage … just incompetent

Stumbled across a YouTube video from Poland today: 12 burly men in a dragon boat, half of them facing one way, half the other, madly paddling in opposite directions in a wacky kind of swimming pool tug-of-war.

It looked just like a CRD sewage committee meeting.

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The Americans are mad at us again — or rather, still — over Victoria’s lack of sewage treatment.

When a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians visited Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer gave them a scolding.

Never mind that the typical MP for Violated Livestock, Sask., or Toronto-Crackpipe couldn’t find Victoria on a map. Kilmer was mad and wanted to be heard.

“It’s time for Canada to solve this sewage problem,” the Olympic Peninsula congressman said. “I grew up in Port Angeles, right across the water from Victoria. So it concerns me when after many years, Canada continues to send raw sewage right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“I’ll continue to call on our Canadian partners to work on a solution so we can ensure this does not impact our shared waters any longer.”

The — how best to describe it? — sedate pace of the capital region’s approach to the sewage problem has long been a sore spot with our southern neighbours, who accuse us of dragging our feet.

“Maybe it’s time for a Mr. Floatie comeback tour,” declared Port Angeles’s Peninsula Daily News on Thursday.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly weighed in, noting that B.C. politicians only got off their butts during the run-up to the Vancouver Olympics. After that, they lost interest, with Premier Christy Clark ignoring Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2014 plea to get things moving.

“The premier has not lifted a finger,” Connelly wrote this week. “Clark blew off the governor. Inslee received a vague, squishy, cliché-laden response from B.C. Environment Minister Mark Polak.” (Er, that’s Mary, not Mark, but let’s not quibble.)

So, yes, our neighbours are ticked off, which should concern us because A) they’re our friends and B) they have guns (the Daily News recently reported a surge in concealed-pistol licences across the strait, with one in 10 area residents now packing a permit).

Yet while it does, after the first quarter-century or so, become progressively harder to deny U.S. accusations of foot-dragging over sewage, we still manage to do so with a straight face.

For this is our self-righteous defence: We’re not dragging our feet. We’re just grossly incompetent.

Good lord, this is Dysfunction-by-the-Sea we’re talking about. Greater Victoria’s 91 mayors and councillors can’t co-ordinate anything: police, fire, regional transportation, bike routes, food-scrap disposal, whose turn it is to call out the grief counsellors when it snows.

Jeez, even what should have been a dead-simple amalgamation referendum turned into a 13-car pile-up in November, with eight municipalities unable to come up with a common ballot question and the other five refusing to ask anything at all. To repeat: Never mind sewage treatment, we couldn’t co-ordinate a three-float parade without driving off in four directions and killing two of the clowns.

Our politicians briefly flirted with getting on the same page, but then Esquimalt invoked distinct-society status and refused to have a treatment plant foisted upon it (“Hey, Barb, me and the guys decided to store this toxic waste in your garage.…”).

After the Esquimalt plan went sideways, we lurched off in a new direction. The CRD is now chasing “subregional” solutions in which a west-side group including Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood, Langford and the Songhees looks at one set of treatment options and an east-side group including Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay explores another, while Metchosin ponders whether to build two-holers or stick with one.

If it’s any comfort to the Americans, our Three Stooges routine could cost us hundreds of millions in federal and provincial grants. Having pushed the completion date to 2023 from 2020, we are testing the patience of those who write the cheques. Losing the funding wouldn’t absolve us of the government-ordered responsibility to build sewage treatment, though.

And besides, as long as our neighbours think we’re using their bathtub as our toilet, this ain’t over.

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