by Rick Conroy Wellington Times
It is not the first time I’ve witnessed inept government policy tear away at the fabric of the community—thrusting families and friends across an unnecessary divide.
I grew up near Cornwall and went to high school in the city in ’70s. French and English families (most of the latter tracing their ancestors back to Scotland) had lived side by side for decades, if not centuries. Together they had cleared the land and settled the towns and villages.
But by the ’60s and ’70s, frustrations over language in government, schools and business next door in Quebec had boiled over into violence and social disorder. In the halfanglophone, half-francophone community of Cornwall, the rise of nationalism in Quebec roused activists who pressed for greater accommodation locally.
The battle settled in my high school which at the time operated on shifts, just like the mills in town. In the morning it was an English language high school, and in the afternoon a French language high school. Next year, vice versa. It was an untenable situation. Fights ensued. Picketing. Small-scale rioting. Then the board moved in, building a brand new school for the English-language students, finally segregating the French kids from the English. It was a surrender more than an accommodation.
It was also disastrous policy. Later on the Catholic board would decide it needed faith-based high schools in Cornwall too—erecting an additional two high schools. Forty years later, the city hasn’t grown—if anything it has shrunk since the mills closed. Cornwall has the same demographic challenges as Prince Edward County—a greying population— with little need for the abundance of high schools in its midst. But the greatest damage was done to the community—to the folks who had to clean up the mess made worse by government intervention. Neighbours turned on neighbours. Families who had worked side by side for years now no longer spoke to each other. Resentment and frustration lingered— largely unspoken—for decades.
Over time the anger and bitter voices diminished, but the hard feelings took a long time to fade. Some say it still exists—just calloused over. The cliché is that time heals all wounds. I suppose that is true if you wait long enough.
Today, another government policy is once again fraying communities here in Prince Edward County, and many other parts of rural Ontario. The province’s manic desire to see massive 40-storey industrial wind turbines obliterate the rural horizon has systematically moved through the County, pitting neighbour against neighbour and family against family. Early in the decade, the fight began in Hillier as developers planned to erect turbines on a ridge of land between Pleasant Bay and Huyck’s Bay. Later, the battlefield moved to Royal Road in South Marysburgh and Athol. In recent years the communities north of Picton, in Sophiasburgh and Hallowell, have been dragged into the fight. Now North Marysburgh residents have become entangled in a bitter and personal battle over the prospect of wind turbines in their midst.
It is a fight made more nasty and hurtful by the perception that on one side are long-time County families seeking to yield more from their land, while on the other side are more recent landowners who fear massive industrial wind turbines looming over their property will surely diminish its value. It is likely more nuanced that that—but nuance gets lost in these kind of skirmishes.
Worse, it is a neighbourhood fight fuelled by a seemingly endless stream of taxpayer dollars. On one side, some landowners simply can’t afford to turn down the $10,000 per year they can earn by hosting a turbine on their land. On the other side are property owners who earn their livelihood from the beauty and bounty of the land. Others have retreated here seeking the scenic wonders and quiet bliss of North Marysburgh. They look at Wolfe Island and see disaster looming—the end of the dream.
Caught in the middle is Councillor Ray Best—who has joined the landowners in signing a deal with a wind developer who seeks to construct 25 wind turbines along the spine of the peninsula. Best has faced two angry crowds at North Marysburgh Hall in recent weeks. He has also been confronted with an array of nasty emails and phone calls from disillusioned residents.
Many feel that Best has compromised his ability to represent them on perhaps the most important issue their community faces. He is the only representative North Marysburgh has on council.
Best argues, however, that the Green Energy Act largely removes local government authority in determining where and how many industrial wind turbines will be installed in the County. In his view, the voice of local government has been silenced on wind turbines. In practical terms, Best reasons, North Marysburgh residents are no worse off than Hallowell, Hillier or Athol.
In the end, as we found out in Cornwall, it doesn’t really matter who is right and who is wrong, regardless of how important it seemed at the time. What does matter is that governments should be community builders—not destroyers. It borders on the immoral that the provincial government would use taxpayer dollars to pit one neighbour against another.
This is particularly troublesome for provincial Liberals, as their ambition rests on irrational and unsustainable economics; meanwhile threatening to make the County look like Wolfe Island.
The hard feelings being fanned in North Marysbugh will forever change that community. There will be no going back. The damage will get worse. Some will move on. Others will hunker down and fight harder. The community will be poorer as a result.
The culprit in this story isn’t Ray Best. The villain is a windmill-crazed government willing to use taxpayer funds to pit neighbour against neighbour.
It must be stopped.