Just when you think you have a perfectly good plan to dump eight billion litres of human waste into the St. Lawrence River, along comes an election overflowing with campaigning politicians. Really, the raw sewage never had a chance.
Montreal has planned since September 2014 to divert raw sewage into the river at 26 different points for one week while workers do maintenance on the city's snow collection and sewage systems.
It's unpleasant to contemplate, but Montreal has been allowed by Ottawa to do this twice before, in 2003 and 2007. Mayor Denis Coderre says city officials have done their homework and this is the only feasible option, as regrettable as it may be. Independent water-quality experts say the massive volume of water in the St. Lawrence will dilute the sewage to harmless levels almost instantaneously – which is believable, given that the river's average water flow is 7 million litres per second.
All this was hunky-dory. The province signed off on it, Ottawa was given repeated chances to weigh in and said nothing, and the city was set to start the dumping on Oct. 18. Bad choice of dates. All of a sudden this week, the Harper government has found itself questioning the wisdom of allowing the city to foul the water and perfume the air the day before, and the day of, the federal election.
On Tuesday, Leona Aglukkaq, the Environment Minister, asked Mr. Coderre to put the dumping on hold. Ms. Aglukkaq admitted her department had been aware of the plan for more than a year but claimed that this week was the first she'd heard of it herself. She now wants time to "explore options to prevent it."
Mr. Coderre has angrily accused the Harper government of playing politics, and he is justified. There is ample evidence that the Tories – who do not have a good record on environmental issues – paid no attention to this sludgefest until it suddenly became an election hot potato. And there is every reason to believe that, timing aside, Ottawa will allow the sewage dump to go ahead, given that it has done so in the past, and because it is the only reasonable option at this point and won't do any long-term harm.
Maybe the Harper government will be able to postpone the dumping, maybe it won't. One way or the other, something is going to smell a bit off on voting day in Montreal.