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Editorial

Water wars

The project is dead, dead, dead – stake through the heart dead. I just doubt that Peary would have had to vacate the throne if he hadn’t linked his campaign to a controversial 291 million-dollar project, and instead pushed the P3 to the back burner and ran on a more conventional platform. In Abbotsford, the debate over Stave Lake tended to usurp the actual campaign, and Peary, being the only mayoral candidate in favour of the project, was just too closely associated.

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By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 23, 2011

“Na na na na na na na na 

BANMAN! BANMAN!”

Thus sang my wonderful mother late Sunday evening, heralding the arrival of Abbotsford’s new mayor—and chiropractor-in-chief —Bruce Banman. As she pointed out, Banman even has the charismatic playboy/vigilante’s first name, although not, admittedly, the caped crusader’s famous physique. I’d like to think that Banman got elected for holding some of the same values as Batman, things like a commitment to justice and a penchant for kicking ass, but I suspect otherwise. From a cynical perspective, Banman’s success is likely the result of former mayor George Peary’s failure – failure to shake the role of super-villain in the fiasco that was the Stave Lake Project.

Don’t worry; the project is dead, dead, dead – stake through the heart dead. I just doubt that Peary would have had to vacate the throne if he hadn’t linked his campaign to a controversial 291 million-dollar project, and instead pushed the P3 to the back burner and ran on a more conventional platform. In Abbotsford, the debate over Stave Lake tended to usurp the actual campaign, and Peary, being the only mayoral candidate in favour of the project, was just too closely associated. He was the Kingpin, the Lex Luthor of this “city in the country,” and people began to call for one man or woman to rise up and stop him.

Hero vs. Villain. System vs. Citizen. Maybe I seem too dramatic, but the rhetoric circulating prior to the November 20 vote was nothing if not polarizing. Specifically, I’m talking about an issue of one of the local Abbotsford papers, which came to my door wrapped in a pro-P3 city ad, yet containing a Water Watch insert that was virulently anti-P3. The dichotomy was jarring, especially considering the ads (or propaganda, to dispense with the euphemism) were very clearly contradictory. As examples:

The city ad states that, “by 2016, even with conservation programs, it is projected that the [water] demand will exceed the existing system capacity for two months of the year,” the other that “just upgrading our existing [water] sources would easily take us to 2023.”

The city ad announces that “Stave Lake is the most economical and feasible water source to meet Abbotsford’s needs,” while the Water Watch fights back with “it is just the ‘only option’ which would give a private corporation a big enough profit margin.”

The city ad states that Abbotsford would be “sole owner of the water system and [would] own all the project infrastructure including water rights, pump station, treatment plant, and transmission lines,” which the Water Watch counters by declaring that “under new trade agreements that Canada is negotiating, private companies operating water systems could be able to claim ownership of the water as their ‘product.’”

The facts themselves are at this point irrelevant, since a decisive 75 per cent of voters rejected the proposal, but the accusations are disquieting. The pro-P3 ad was endorsed with quotes from Peary himself, as well as several prominent city officials, and therefore the criticism is not only an attack on the project itself, but also indirectly on the individuals behind it. If an upgrade to our water system is a better alternative to the Stave Lake project or if the project would really allow a private company to own our water, then it appears that Peary is either utterly incompetent or downright manipulative. “Incompetent” is not a word that most would use to describe George Peary with his 31 years of civic service, and thus the main thrust of the Water Watch insert was that we were being misled to by those in power.

Peary’s reign is over now, and the P3 is a footnote in the margins of municipal history (for now). The time of the Banman has begun; so let all of Gotham’s… Abbotsford’s miscreants beware. But frankly, I’m still a little confused. Was the Stave Lake Project really an elaborate ruse intended to pass profit and water rights into the hands of private corporations? Or was it a clumsy, if well-intentioned attempt to browbeat the populace into saving themselves from a water crisis? Was Peary (not likely) lying? Was the Water Watch (more likely) misrepresenting the truth? And will anybody attempt to pursue these questions?

Sometimes I sincerely wish that municipal politics were more like Batman Begins. That the good guys would be truly “good” and that, instead of mounting propaganda campaigns, the bad guys would try crazy and unfeasible things involving military-grade hallucinogens. Yet perhaps there are more similarities to the movie than meet the eye. The hallucinogens, if I remember correctly, were introduced through Gotham’s water supply.

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