Metro Vancouver incinerator plan draws election heat
Citizens aren't voting on the proposed incinerator but that hasn't stopped the campaigning
It's one of the most contentious issues in the Lower Mainland.
But citizens won't get the chance to vote on a proposed incinerator when they go to the polls this month.
That hasn't stopped some local politicians from tying their fortunes to opposition to Metro Vancouver's plans for the facility.
And it raises the question of whether or not a region-wide referendum should be held.
"All our municipal campaigns are what we choose to try to make them, along with what the electorate makes them," says Neal Nicholson, a Coquitlam city councillor who put forward a motion calling for a vote on the incinerator at the same time as a TransLink funding referendum.
"It's not a municipal issue, but it very much impacts my community, and if it impacts my community, I think I have to speak up to whatever level of government or whatever body can influence the impact that my residents are seeing on themselves."
Incinerator a popular punching bag
The proposed $500 million waste-to-energy incinerator has become a punching bag for chambers of commerce, city councils and politicians from Port Moody to Chilliwack.
It's part of Metro Vancouver's aggressive plan for recycling and trash disposal.
But the incinerator has taken some knocks of late.
Last month, the province denied Metro Vancouver the power to stop companies from hauling trash out of the region. Bylaw 280 was a key part of a plan that would have diverted garbage to the incinerator.
Next, the plan's biggest corporate opponent, Belkorp Environmental Services Inc., issued an analysis suggesting the incinerator could cost as much as $1.3 billion.
The same company released a survey in September suggesting that 75 per cent of people in the Lower Mainland would like the region to put the incinerator plan on ice for two years.
Belkorp's Russ Black claims Metro Vancouver is misrepresenting the issue and ignoring the private sector's efforts to build a recycling facility.
"We’re at a turning point," Black said in an email. "More incineration or more recycling?"
Criticisms dismissed as political opportunism
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore dismisses the reports as spin commissioned by a company that stands to lose money to an ambitious and progressive agenda.
He accuses politicians like Nicholson of opportunism.
"It's a large complex issue that I think that some local politicians that are seeking office use as a kind of shiny object that they're opposed to something," Moore says.
It's a large complex issue that I think that some local politicians that are seeking office use as a kind of shiny object that they're opposed to something.- Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore
"I think the question that then has to be given to them is if you don't like that process, what do you like?"
Abbotsford city councillor Patricia Ross has been a vocal opponent of the incinerator for years.
It may be a regional issue, but she believes it should be part of local campaigns.
Ross claims it has become "political suicide" to come out in support of the plan in the Fraser Valley.
"The purpose of raising issues at election time isn’t just to try to decide who to vote for, it is to let the candidates know what is important to you, what you want them to work on and what positions you’d like them to take," she says.
"I know that if something is not raised at an all candidates meeting, the candidate often assumes it is not important."
Opponents inspired by 'Mr. Floatie'
To that end, the Burn Free BC Coalition announced plans this fall to dog Metro Vancouver politicians who support the incinerator.
The group has a smokestack-styled mascot named Mr. Burns, inspired by Mr. Floatie, the excrement-shaped mascot who urged Victoria politicians to support a new sewage treatment plant.
Ross believes the incinerator would further threaten the already compromised air quality of the Fraser Valley.
"On a personal level, I'd love to see anybody who's been aggressively promoting the incinerator go down," she says.
I'd love to see anybody who's been aggressively promoting the incinerator go down.- Abbotsford city councillor Patricia Ross
"But I do also think that it is responsible of the taxpayer to look at a politician's overall performance, not base their judgment on one issue."
Ross believes a referendum might be a good idea, but Moore says the region can't put every big ticket item to a public vote.
To that end, he says, citizens should ask where their local politicians stand on all regional issues.
"All of the strategic plans at Metro Vancouver as well as the regional plans all get voted on by local government, not just by the directors," Moore says.
"If someone doesn't like our decisions at the regional level, they just have to wait until the next election to un-elect us or make it an issue at that local level as well."