They were asleep at the switch and McGuinty rammed it through.
By JOHN DEVINE, SPECIAL TO THE SUN TIMES,www.owensoundsuntimes.com
The pursuit of green energy in the fields of rural Ontario is just another example of a Toronto-centric mentality by governments at Queen’s Park, says MPP Bill Murdoch.
“We have a problem in rural Ontario, we’ve had it for a long time,” Murdoch said in a recent interview. “Everything at Queen’s Park being, it’s OK for Toronto so it’s OK for the rest of Ontario.”
Murdoch says it’s this “attitude” that fuelled his comments earlier this year that Toronto and the rest of the province should go their separate ways.
Murdoch acknowledges his proposal to hive the rest of the province off from Toronto is not likely to happen. But he appreciates the chance to air his concerns.
“It’s great to have this discussion, and hopefully the least that will come out of it is that McGuinty will start to realize we are serious in rural Ontario, and do want some say. Where it goes I have no idea. I’m looking for input.”
The Green Energy Act, which removes municipal input into the construction of wind farms, other than an obligation to consult, is the latest in a long line of initiatives that favours urban over rural areas, he says.
“You can almost take any bill and look at it, and it’s designed for Toronto.”
He mentions the Clean Water Act.
“There’s no compensation in there for anybody if you have to, say, fence all the rivers on your property — no compensation for the land you lose plus all the work you do. Does that affect anyone in downtown Toronto? Not one iota!”
On the species at risk legislation, he says, “they could stop you from cutting your hay in a field because there might be some sort of a bird out there that’s endangered, and no compensation again. It just goes on and on and on.”
The urban-over-rural mentality isn’t unique to one party, he says. Rather, it crosses the political spectrum.
“Rural Ontario has just been dumped on forever, because we don’t have enough votes . . . and I’m not saying McGuinty is the only one, it’s been like this for ages. Who killed the spring bear hunt? And there was no consultation on that.” (The hunt was ended in 1998 by the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris).
On the Green Energy Act, Murdoch expresses surprise that provisions curtailing local input on proposed wind farms didn’t generate more of a reaction from municipalities. And he doesn’t mince words when responding to McGuinty’s “nimbyism” remark in early 2009, when the premier said that safety and environmental concerns would be the only legitimate objections to green energy projects, including wind farms.
“It was awful. Arrogance, arrogance! It’s because he has a vast majority and he knows that he can win every seat in Toronto and down in that area . . . that’s where all the power is, and that relates back to what I’ve been (saying about) the Toronto mentality. It’s the most arrogant thing I’ve ever seen somebody do — take away the rights. And the municipalities are starting to pick up on that. They were a little slow; we have municipalities in Grey and Bruce now who say we’re not going to allow them, but they have no choice.
He added: “When my resolution went to Queen’s Park, I didn’t really get support from the municipalities. Now, they are all saying we don’t want this to happen, but they were asleep at the switch and McGuinty rammed it through.”
Murdoch’s resolution called for a moratorium on new wind energy projects, pending an independent review of health-impact claims. It was defeated.
“I felt there should be a moratorium on any more in rural Ontario until we actually get the facts. If we put a moratorium on it, it would get done. People do say, ‘oh we are looking at this, or we’re looking at that,’ but it drags on and meanwhile there are more wind farms going up.”
It seems unlikely there will be a moratorium on new wind farms in Ontario anytime soon. This spring the government announced the approval of 184 renewable energy projects, among them wind farms.
The projects are expected to generate 2,500 megawatts of energy.
Recently the government announced 512 renewable energy projects, capable of producing 112 megawatts of energy.
With the Green Energy Act in force, and renewable energy an integral part of the government’s electricity-generating strategy, Murdoch says, “it’s in Dalton McGuinty’s hands” whether or not a wind farm is approved.
“The municipalities don’t have any say about it. I realize there are a lot of groups out there upset about it, but, you know something, they don’t have anything . . . to protect them.”
He worries the streamlining into provincial hands of the approvals process for wind farms represents “a slippery slope” of eroding municipal responsibilities.
“Once you get away with this, what’s next? What’s the next one they are going to do? They’re going to say, ‘oh we don’t need the municipalities, so we’ll just do it from here.’”
While the lack of local input on a wide range of issues is a symptom of the “Toronto mentality,” the MPP says, the roots of the problem run deeper.
“The whole system is screwed up. It comes to the point where we don’t have what you call representative democracy anymore. We have what you call party democracy. You get elected in an area, and then they expect you to toe the line and do what the party tells you to do.
“In this country we elect our dictators, other countries just appoint them.”