By Paul Morden, The Sarnia Observer
Opponents of industrial wind turbine farms in rural Ontario believe they sent a message to Premier Dalton McGuinty on election day. Now, they’re waiting to see if he listened. The Liberal leader came within a hair of returning to Queen’s Park with a third straight majority, but fell short thanks to the loss of several rural ridings in which there was vocal opposition to the wind farms promoted by Ontario’s Green Energy Act.
That legislation took away control municipal councils had over planning approvals for green energy projects as the province charged, full steam ahead with its plan to build Ontario wind and solar industry.
Grassroots opponents to industrial wind projects who watched massive turbines rise in farm fields around rural Ontario, and didn’t like what they saw, decided to flex their political muscles during the fall election.
They’ve been getting at least part of the credit for the Liberals loss of several rural seats. The list included the Lambton-Kent-Middlesex riding of Liberal backbencher Marie Van Bommel where McGuinty was greeted by sign-waiving wind protesters during a late election visit to Strathroy.
A look at the election map of Ontario following the recent vote is telling.
The rural ridings of southwestern Ontario are Conservative blue with the Liberals confined to a few urban outposts.
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak promised to tear up a multi-billion-dollar green energy deal the Liberals made with South Korea’s Samsung as part of the McGuinty government’s job-creation and economic renewal plan.
It was a message that appears to have earned Hudak votes in rural ridings, but didn’t make much of a dent in the Liberal’s support in Toronto and other urban areas where wind turbines aren’t appearing.
It remains to be seen if the Conservatives’ election gains will be enough to dent the Liberals green energy ambitions.
Some Lambton County mayors think the Liberal government’s need to attract other party support means there is at least a chance some control over green energy projects could return to municipalities.
When New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath visited Sarnia in July, she said her party voted in favour of the Green Energy Act, but added the Liberals made some decisions about how to implement it “we wouldn’t have made.”
She added, “We think the large energy projects in Ontario . . . should be publicly planned, publicly owned.”
As Ontario’s MPPs get back to work in the weeks and months ahead, and the political deals start being made, rural anti-wind forces will be watching to see if their opposition, and their votes, were loud enough to be heard.