The Week — June 1

CRD says no to biosolids — for now, the province and voters buckle in for a long HST battle, complete with secret antagonists

CRD director Philippe Lucas passed two motions that would see the district take a firm stance against using biosolids on farmlands — but the CRD board will have to approve it first.

CRD says no to biosolids, for now

Big news this week: Islanders don’t want to eat from a toilet, and even the Capital Regional District agrees — for now.

CRD directors, UVic law students, farmers and community members spoke at length during last week’s special CRD meeting to pass a motion that would see the CRD halt the production, distribution and storage of Class-A biosolid waste — commonly refered to as sludge — and prevent the pilot project that would have seen the substance used for large-scale land application.

The two motions, put forward by CRD director and Victoria City councillor Philippe Lucas, asked first for the project to be rejected, and second for the CRD to take an official stance against future large-scale land application. The motions were passed by the CRD’s Environmental Sustainability Committee and Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee, but now must be sent on for approval at the CRD board level via the July 16 meeting.

“I was extremely pleased and gratified that CRD directors showed care and concern for local farms and food sustainability,” says Lucas. “I really do believe that public pressure is what turned this around and, fingers crossed … we’ve sent a message that we’re not supportive of using these biosolids.”

Currently, no materials grown with biosolids can be certified as organic and most grocery stores in the country will reject biosolid-grown products. While the substance can return phosphorous and nitrogen to the soil, studies have also shown that even Class-A biosolids can still contain toxic chemicals, carcinogens, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pharmaceutical agents. The pilot project was originally put forward by the Saanich Penninsula Waste Water Commission in an effort to adhere to the “beneficial reuse strategy,” which demands that 10 per cent of processed waste be reused.

“If we’ve decided that this material is unsafe to put in our water, how is putting it on our farmland any safer?” says Ruby Commandeur, a member of the Saanich Penninsula Waste Water Commission and an organic blueberry farmer in Saanich. “We’re told these things are fine and regulated, then 20 years later we find out how wrong we all were.”

Geoff Orr, chair of the commission, says that the answer isn’t so clear.

“The waste still has to be dealt with, and when you incinerate, for example, there are issues around that. How do you decide which is the worst evil?” Orr says. “It comes down to your level of risk tolerance. Yes, there are risks involved, but what are the odds of those actually happening and, if we aren’t going to do that, what are we going to do?”

To HST, or not to HST

With British Columbians sharpening their pencils to prep for yet another vote, the provincial government is readying itself for what it expects will be a 66 per cent voter turn out — er, mail in — all over the dear issue of our taxes.

The 3,050,000 voters in B.C. will get to vote on Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in the same manner of absentee voters, with a mailed ballot. The province doesn’t hesitate to point out that this is costing approximately $12 million (with $3.3 million dedicated to postage and potential mail troubles), but while all ballots must be received by 4:30 p.m. on July 22 — via mail or at an Elections BC Collection Centre — the province is giving itself until Aug. 25 to make the count and announce the results. During that time, they will also be polling 6,000 residents to find out who voted.

An unexpected antagonist may be creeping into the shadows as we speak, though — the Canada Post strike is forecast now for Thursday at 11:59 p.m. What will those mail-in ballots do? Canada Post has ensured that there will be secured facilities to store mail in event of a strike. Elections BC may also choose to extend voter time if the strike is prolonged. So far, no move has been made to deem the post an essential service.

“I’m very concerned about it,” says Craig James, Elections BC chief electoral officer. “A great deal of work has been done here and getting this thing out the door is very important to us at this point.”

Literacy BC has approved the question for readability and Elections BC approved the wording for non-bias content, though the phrasing will still make you read over it twice. “Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?” In lay terms, vote yes to get rid of HST, vote no to keep it. M

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