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Les Leyne: Byelection candidates get contorted over sewage

Nov 24 2012

There's been intense philosophical speculation about what constitutes an endorsement, since colleague Rob Shaw outlined how David Suzuki tried to climb off the Green Party bandwagon.

It was another confounding moment leading up to Monday's byelection vote. The contest has forced candidates into some pretty contorted positions. And most of them involve finding a way to square environmental leanings and previous party promises with the fact voters are cold to the idea of paying for sewage treatment.

Suzuki was the latest to stretch himself out of shape in the campaign. He showed up at a big Green Party rally earlier in the week. He said nice things about Green candidate Donald Galloway.

The CBC personality delivered a set speech about defending the environment, of the kind that's turned him into a national icon.

Then he localized the focus. "I hope to provide you with why you're here and what the job is now. The job is to go out and start raising these issues.

And see which candidates for office are actually going to confront the kind of issues that the Greens understand to their very DNA and their core.

"So again, thank you, Don (Galloway), thank you, Donald, for offering yourself for this very tough challenge. The people are here today, I think, to say they appreciate it."

It was an obvious political rally, and Suzuki was enthusiastic about how Greens understand the kind of issues he cares about "to their very DNA and their core." He didn't appear at any other party's events.

Galloway's campaign understood his appearance to be an endorsement. So they whipped up a leaflet listing Suzuki as an endorser.

Then some curiosity developed about how a famous environmentalist came to back an environmental candidate who thinks the current plan for sewage treatment is an "economic nightmare."

Greens a few years ago were ardent in demanding the Capital Regional District start treating its sewage. But things have changed. Galloway's position is that the city doesn't need to worry about sewage, and the current plan for a solution is unsustainable.

Shaw tracked down Suzuki a few days later about the appearance and a new position emerged. It turns out Suzuki is actually reluctant to make personal endorsements and didn't feel he was endorsing Galloway.

And on the topic of sewage treatment, Suzuki deferred on some of the local details, but stressed that he favours treatment.

"I just think, as an operating rule, we've got to stop using nature as a toxic dump," he said.

It's a good thing he retroactively rescinded his apparent endorsement. Because Galloway's stand is completely the opposite.

The candidate says "nature plays a different role breaking down organic particles," so Victoria doesn't face the same problem other cities do.

Suzuki says we can't use nature as a dump. Galloway says nature is managing the dump adequately.

It's remarkable to see an environmental party advocating a slowdown on what it used to consider an environmental problem of the first order.

But Greens aren't the only ones who have retreated. The federal Liberals and Conservatives have also backed away from former stands in favour of proceeding with treatment plans. The Conservative candidate even pulled off the retreat in the middle of the campaign.

They're managing this stand even while a half-billion dollars in federal and provincial funding sits on the table, waiting for nervous local politicians to commit to signing on.

The byelection campaign has been a good warm-up for the provincial election campaign next spring, when the same issue will likely dominate in the south Island.

Whether Suzuki makes another appearance there seems to be an open question.

Although he doesn't consider his Green appearance this week as an endorsement and prefers not to make them, he explicitly promised upcoming support to Oak Bay-Gordon Head Green candidate Andrew Weaver.

His parting words to Galloway at the rally were: "They're going to be all out there beating the doors for you, as I will be for Andrew Weaver when he runs for office next year."

That sounds like an endorsement, too. And Weaver is on the same page as the federal candidate in wanting the current sewage-treatment plan delayed. Maybe they can get their positions straight by next spring.


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