The NDP's Murray Rankin glad-handed his way through a bubble-tea café in Victoria's Chinatown on Sunday, promising to fight against the Northern Gateway pipeline if he wins the Nov. 26 federal by-election. Veteran NDP campaigner Olivia Chow, the MP for Trinity-Spadina in Toronto, was at his side, smoothly switching to Cantonese when needed to introduce the party's candidate.
One topic that didn't come up during this main-streeting event was the region's plan to add a secondary treatment facility for the more than 100 million litres of sewage pumped into the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day. But his opponents see it as the one subject that could deny the New Democratic Party a by-election victory.
The odds favour Mr. Rankin in this strong NDP riding, but he has been isolated as the candidate in favour of a proposed $780-million sewage treatment plant for the capital region. It's a project that faces vocal opposition.
"We're the only [coastal] community north of San Diego that doesn't have secondary sewage treatment. I think people are beginning to see that putting it off until the year 2040 is simply unacceptable," Mr. Rankin said in an interview. "We have got to address the issue of dumping sewage into the ocean."
The NDP candidate can thank the Harper Conservatives and the B.C. Liberal government for this potential wedge issue. Both levels of government are demanding that the Capital Regional District install secondary treatment, rather than pumping screened effluent into the strait.
Critics of the plan, which could add hundreds of dollars each year to homeowners' tax bills, say science is on their side; that there is no evidence that the natural movement of the currents can't process the outfall.
Mr. Rankin finds himself siding with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, which has found the seabed near the outfalls exceeds the province's contaminated-sites standards.
Liberal candidate Paul Summerville has pushed to make this the defining wedge issue in the campaign. It's cost him the endorsement of Mr. Floatie, Victoria's best-known figure in the community's sewage treatment debate. And he couldn't be happier about that.
"We knew we were on to something when Mr. Floatie endorsed the front-runner," he said Sunday.
Mr. Floatie was the alter-ego of James Skwarok, an activist who would dress up as a log-shaped piece of feces, with a bow tie, to draw attention to the issue. Mr. Skwarok has not pulled out his costume for the by-election but has offered his support to Mr. Rankin.
Mr. Summerville said the issue has "come to a crescendo in the last couple of days. … It is really connecting with people." Building the facility will "tax businesses and people out of the city."
It's been a tougher topic for Conservative candidate Dale Gann, who began the campaign in favour of the project. But he says the public backlash has persuaded him to go against his own government. "You hear a lot of taxpayers saying, they want to know we are using their tax dollars wisely," he said. "This is not the right plan or the right time" The Green Party's Donald Galloway said he is not opposed to sewage treatment – but he is against this project, which has already won matching grants from federal and provincial governments.
"We are strong proponents of secondary treatment," he said in an interview Sunday. "The question is when, and whether the current proposal is the best proposal."