Opinion

COLUMN: Byelection better than expected

This column appeared in print Nov. 30

For the first time in my recent memory, I was in a quandary about who to vote for in the federal byelection for Victoria.

Was it because I didn’t see anyone on the list I connected with as much as Denise Savoie, who I’ve known since my days covering Victoria city council, and trusted as someone who would do what she said she’d do as an MP? Probably.

For someone like myself who puts a lot of stock in personal connections – how does candidate X come across in a face-to-face meeting or interview?

I regret professionally that I didn’t take the opportunity to do that this time around. Especially so, given that I live in the riding.

As someone who vigorously promotes the importance of exercising one’s right to vote, and being part of the process, I felt compelled to cast my ballot, but not spoil it.

On election night eve – yes, and election day morning – I set to reading as much as I could about the candidates to get a sense of who I’d most likely connect with if I was sitting across the table or having a coffee with them.

Like a nagging plumbing problem, the topic of sewage treatment kept coming up. For an issue that seems pretty much a done deal, at least in the eyes of the two regulating bodies – the provincial and federal governments – sewage treatment dominated any discussions or debate.

I believe we should spend money to solve the bigger problem affecting the marine environment, polluted stormwater. I’ve always felt that the furor around our flushing screened sewage into the ocean is based more on public relations than hard science or even economics.

As such, I found myself faced with trying to determine whose views or stand on sewage treatment best meshed with my own. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person grappling with this decision. Among the many people I’ve talked to – neighbours, friends and family – more were concerned about property taxes increasing by hundreds of dollars than they were about opposition parties’ views on the future of the Enbridge pipeline.

The hows and whens of sewage treatment have been percolating for years. But as plans inch closer to fruition, a few local politicians and an aggressive anti-treatment lobby group have brought it back to the surface of the public’s consciousness.

I firmly believe that election winner NDP Murray Rankin’s hardline stance on treatment, that we need it now, not 20 years down the road – echoing NDP environmental policy – alienated him from many NDP voters who felt he was out of touch with the mood of the people.

I was one of them.

The Green Party’s Donald Galloway, voicing an approach of “we’ll eventually need it, but let’s see how flexible the government is on the timing,” seemed the next best bet for me and no doubt many others.

University of Victoria political science professor James Lawson threw cold water on the sewage theory. He noted that Liberal candidate Paul Summerville – strongly anti-treatment from the get-go – was not rewarded for his stance by the voters, finishing fourth with barely 5,000 votes.

Watching the polling numbers come in, however, seeing Galloway lead or stay within 100 votes of Rankin until late in the count, I couldn’t help but come back to the treatment issue.

The mood of supporters at Rankin’s and Galloway’s election night headquarters spoke volumes about their approaches.

Simply being in the running so late was a gift for the Greens, since few, if any pundits picked them to do so well. Their jubilation and sense of victory – no matter the result – showed humility and respect for the electoral process.

If Rankin won, it was because he was supposed to win. The NDP supporters who gathered in the plush Fairmont Empress Crystal Ballroom for a gala celebration, a coronation of sorts, appeared nervous as they watched the seesaw vote count.

In the end, their man could breathe a sigh of relief, having dodged an electoral bullet.

I hope the NDP learned a valuable lesson Monday night.

You can’t bank on support when your candidate is no more known than the next person on the ballot, and especially when there’s an opportunity to turn a brown issue green.

Don Descoteau is editor of the Victoria News.

editor@vicnews.com

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