Editorial: Mr. Floatie is a mascot we don't need

Mr. Floatie is an ugly memory from Victoria's recent past, and he should stay that way. As the debate over Victoria's sewage-treatment plan rises to new levels of intensity, residents and politicians needs facts and reasoned arguments. There is no place for a walking, talking turd.

Six years ago, the mascot was the most visible and embarrassing figure in the push to get the provincial government to order the region to treat its sewage. Proponents of treatment saw him as a tool to shame governments into action; critics of treatment saw him as a contemptible appeal to emotion, with no basis in fact.

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Mr. Floatie was remarkably effective in generating negative publicity for Victoria, both nationally and beyond our borders.

He helped undermine the city's reputation as a beautiful vacation spot.

James Skwarok, the man inside the costume, even ran briefly for mayor of Victoria in 2005, but withdrew when he was told he couldn't campaign as Mr. Floatie. That abortive campaign got him headlines as far away as Arizona.

The debates back then were the same as the ones we hear now, with former federal environment minister David Anderson and medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick saying the science didn't support treatment, while federal environment minister Stéphane Dion, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and Mayor Alan Lowe all pushed for treatment, with comic assistance from Skwarok.

At that time, the estimated cost was $477 million plus $17 million a year in operating costs.

Today, the federal and provincial governments have ordered the region to treat its sewage at an estimated capital cost of $783 million.

After the order came down, it appeared the opponents of treatment had been shunted into irrelevance.

Treatment was coming, and those who objected seemed like quixotic cranks, fighting a battle that was already lost.

Over the past few months, however, as the treatment plans moved ahead, the opponents redoubled their efforts and began to gain some traction and backing from local politicians.

Last week, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who has always opposed the planned treatment plant in her municipality, and Saanich Coun. Vic Derman served notice they would introduce motions at the Capital Regional District's sewage committee to suspend work until 2040. Indications are that they might be able to get enough votes to pass in late November.

That would pitch the CRD into a confrontation with the provincial and federal governments, both of whom insist withdrawal is not an option.

Suddenly, the public supporters of sewage treatment have discovered that the battle they thought was over is raging anew. As they threw themselves back into the fray, some turned their thoughts to Mr. Floatie.

Skwarok thinks no one wants him to return, but says: "If necessary, we'll have to bring him back."

It is not necessary and no turn in the debate, no matter how desperate, will make it necessary.

The two sides are wedded to their interpretations of the science, and neither is willing to budge.

But as they try to convince politicians at all levels and residents of Greater Victoria, they must base their appeals on that science.

Hard as it is for all of us find our way through the debate, we have to do it with the facts, not with emotion.

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