It must have been a real nuisance for Premier Dalton McGuinty to have to yank one of his ministers off an issue, as he did recently with Minister of Environment John Gerretsen in regard to Gerretsen’s troubled pet project, the Wolfe Island wind farm. McGuinty did the right thing, of course. But we should not imagine that the story ends there.
The worst problem is not that the amount of energy to be generated is being massively overstated or that it would cost about twice as much as the power we are using today. It is not the impact on migratory birds in an internationally designated important bird area. Or the persistent unanswered questions about health, species at risk and emergency preparedness.
The real problem has to do with accountability. The lack of it.
The tale begins when the company started to make secret deals with landowners and pursue closed-door negotiations with the municipal council, two of whose members later declared they had “optioned” their land to the company and therefore were in its pay.
When the final vote on the municipal bylaw was taken in November 2006, two days after municipal elections but before the new council took office, the two councillors from Wolfe Island remembered they were in a conflict of interest (as presumably they had been throughout the negotiation with the company) and decided not to vote. The motion was carried by the votes of the remaining two councillors from Howe Island, which will have none of the 86 400-foot-tall wind turbines and half of the amenities agreement. No fuss, no mess. Politics at its best.
Fast-forward to 2007. The municipal rezoning is being considered by the Ontario Municipal Board. Who do we find at a corporate hoedown, enjoying the company of the firm that donated at least $1,500 to his re-election campaign? Why, that would be Gerretsen. Again, this could be just a coincidence.
And as minister of municipal affairs, Gerretsen delivered the goods for the company, signing all the requisite documents and amendments to the Official Plan. But the final stroke had not yet been made, as approval lies with the minister of environment.
No role for Gerretsen there, except that he changed his job just in time. Now he could continue to work on the company’s behalf, if not necessarily at its behest, and let the blasting begin. Except, sadly, he got caught in a “perceived” conflict of interest, which he inexplicably did not perceive himself, and the premier had to step in and bench him.
I take no joy from Gerretsen’s comeuppance. This shouldn’t have been about him anyway. It should have been about implementing all our laws and procedures, not just those that support his pet project, and representing all the citizens, not just those who, like his reelection campaign, took money from the company.
Gerretsen fell off the accountability ferry when he started looking at some of his citizens as opponents rather than people to whom he was responsible, and when he threw in his lot with industry at the expense of ordinary people.
As pointed out in the Whig-Standard’s editorial “Gerretsen’s gaffe” (May 31), perhaps the saddest aspect of this affair is that it took a group of concerned citizens to give a lesson in civics to a provincial minister. It really should be the other way around, shouldn’t it?
10 June 2008
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