Comment: ‘Villains’ in soil controversy can become heroes

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony’s speech called out the conspirators in the slaying of Caesar. He did it with rhetoric and duplicity, referring to the conspirators as honourable men, causing the people of Rome to rise against the conspirators. No such duplicity or trick of speech is needed here.

The owners of South Island Aggregates are honourable people who have shown me nothing but kindness. They have sold me giant rocks at cost so that it wouldn’t bankrupt a nonprofit association in need of protecting our property from increasingly high rivers due to climate change. I have known at least one of the owners to give up time and considerable energy to support an event to raise money for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

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These are acts of good men, of honourable men.

And those men who want to remove toxic sludge from the ocean, left there from a time when such things were not understood, are engaged in an honourable pursuit. The science wasn’t in back then. The sludge now needs to be removed. And it needs to be stored as safely as is possible. It’s just that on a hill in a watershed that flows into a lake whose life-giving water supplies at least 12,000 people isn’t such a place.

There was a time when the long-term implications of environmental and human impact weren’t well understood or, more to the point, considered in any depth or balance. That time isn’t now.

The environment is no longer an enemy of the economy. It turns out that the economy (invented by humans) relies on the environment (invented by … well, fill in your deity or scientific phenomenon).

Shawnigan Lake’s good people understand this. They have very passionate, very smart and exceptionally experienced people who are ready to develop a local economy that walks side by side with their local environment. We believe it will become a world-class destination for eco-tourism, sustainable logging practices and good food and drink.

There are places like this throughout North America that are making millions of dollars a year doing just this. Shawnigan Lake could be such a place.

As the story rises to a climax, in Rome, the people rise up. Shawnigan’s good people are doing the same. There’s a very non-Shakespearian phrase to consider in the 21st century, however. It’s called social licence.

The Ministry of Environment, led by an honourable woman, and the proponents, led, I believe, by honourable people, have not gained this. Nor will they. Ever.

It’s time for honourable people to bring this to the most positive conclusion for everyone.

Drop the request to store toxic waste in our watershed. You have the opportunity to do this. As my “mayor” of Shawnigan (the Cowichan Valley Regional District Area B director) says, “villains” have the opportunity to become heroes.

It’s called redemption. Shawnigan Lake redemption. Sounds like a good title for a movie. Shakespeare would be pleased.


Mark Neufeld is an interdisciplinary master of science degree candidate at the Centre for Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria and a teacher at the Institute for Global Solutions at Claremont Secondary School.

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