Water on the Brain

Ron Bolin:  June 30, 2011

Water, water everywhere, but nary a drop is safe.  It seems that wherever we look in Nanaimo these days there are expensive water problems which are in dire and imminent need of expensive fixing.  First we had the sewers needed to take the bad water away from various pockets of the city at a cost of up to $19 million.  Then there came the water filtration system to get safe water for them, the rest of us now living here and those tens of thousands assumed to be coming here in the next 25 years.  This tab comes up to an estimated $65 million with $50 million to come from current Nanaimo taxpayers.  Then there is the $16 million for a new city hall annex to house the management of these troubled waters.  All these figures are estimates and we still remember the estimate originally  given for the conference centre.

In only one of these matters was the public to be adequately consulted –and that was quickly quashed.  The very expensive water filtration system was budgeted to require $22.5 million in long term borrowing and thus required a referendum.  At a meeting on June 13, with Councillors Holdom and Johnston absent, Council voted to hold a referendum.  Upon their return Holdom demanded a revote and, mocking democracy as a process, led a revolt leading to the reintroduction of the “Alternate Approval” process originally recommended by Staff.  This system puts the onus of defense on citizen activists via an opting-out process; a practice which is not legal in ordinary commerce for obvious reasons.  Council on the 27th, however, acceded to Mr. Holdom, rescinded the referendum, and put the alternate process in its place.  They even passed third reading at the Council meeting on June 27 to ensure that there would be little more discussion of the subject in public.  Councillors Sherry, Bestwick and Kipp voted against this action to no avail.

This scintillating story of water in Nanaimo carries within it all the elements of high political drama: democratic rights; big public money; decision do-overs, and vote reneging.   Could it get any more intriguing?  Let’s hear your opinion on these stories and see if we can prise out any lasting lessons from this experience before the election in November and our descent into poverty.  Can we learn anything or are we fated to repeat our previous follies?