Eighty percent of eligible voters in Royston, Union Bay and Kilmarnock came out to polling booths on July 18 voting nearly 3 to 1 against the $56 million project that would have pumped sewage from Union Bay to Cape Lazo and seriously drained the annual budget of many residents. With such an overwhelming no vote one can’t help wondering why anyone bothered to go through this absurd waste of time and money. Isn’t it the role of elected representatives to represent their constituents? Do those elected to office suddenly forget who elected them or that they were elected to serve the community? Now you could say holding a referendum is getting the opinion of electors, but why—on Earth—would an organization like the CVRD spend so much effort on an obviously doomed project? With 80% turnout voting 3:1, a one day walking survey in the district would have abundantly revealed the utter political implausibility of a project that, at most, one in four people would support. One person going door to door, one day vs the bundles of big taxpayer bills that have been allocated to research and promotion of South Sewer Project SSP!
Or was there support for the project that evaporated just before polling day? Given the 2013 electoral area referendum on spending $150 a year on curbside garbage pickup was defeated 3:1 how could CVRD directors imagine that Royston/Union Bay would vote FOR pumping sewage to Cape Lazo for $2000 a year + maintenance +++?
Given the result, I very seriously doubt the SSP could have passed fluff in a windstorm, but I do believe there was considerable more support for the project before Area C director Edwin Grieve ran around the Elections Act to distribute very one-sided yes SSP (let’s call it what it clearly was) “propaganda.” I am in Union Bay three days a week and I have been listening attentively to what people are saying about the referendum. I know that a number of people I speak with had been really struggling with how to vote. They are retired on a fixed income and $2000 a year + is not pocket change to them but…but they are very concerned about reports of septic tanks failing and reports of sewage related pollution in streams and even Baynes Sound. They and others were struggling with the issue but when Director Grieve defied the Elections Act to promote the yes vote, I am told many–battered by years of claims, lawsuits, misrepresentations and broken promises over development proposals began to question what is the real interests in the SSP and in having the local residents pay for it. Many began to question the credibility of information coming from a regional district whose former chair and apparent mouthpiece on SSP was so anxious to promote the project that even the elections act could be tossed out the window to get the vote yes propaganda out.
So where to from the overwhelmingly failed SSP? Well another interesting lesson: the P3 proposal failed by an even larger majority than the SSP itself. It was good planning to have the SSP and the P3 as separate ballot issues so the aversion to P3 didn’t have to poison the whole project, however just bringing it up as the only researched construction/governance model clearly indicated to residents that the CVRD was promoting corporate interests without duly considering the public interest. And, oh, my gosh, now that the Kensington development is—once again—on ice wouldn’t it be nice if the whole Kensington development went to new owners who knowing the combative history of the project–and all the failings that has led to—could start over with a more cooperative, consultative, conciliatory approach; could put all the past battles behind and start over with building a sense of trust and common interest with the community? People in Union Bay are fed up with all the angst and trouble. I hear regularly that they do want solutions to sewage and fire and roads and development and… but they want to have a say on more than a fully developed plan prepared and presented by boards that are not in touch with the needs and desires of residents.
I think we are at a turning point where this failed referendum could become the grain of sand around which the precious jewel of a community working together can grow. Perhaps now is the right time to rethink local municipal governance where residents won’t have directors who don’t represent the community trying to push projects and expenses that the community doesn’t want. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful turn if this led to a local process that establishes what residents do want and can say yes to 3:1?
Thoughts submitted by Leroy: