An enthusiastic group of approximately 75 protesters armed with placards and whistles marched around Meaford Hall for more than an hour on Wednesday night in their fight against an influx of industrial wind turbines on rural Ontario.
Inside Meaford Hall was Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Liberal candidate Kevin Eccles who was holding an early campaign fundraising event.
Ontario’s Environment Minister John Wilkinson was to have attended the fundraiser however according to Eccles, Wilkinson had been double-booked and was unable to attend the event.
As protestors circled the building chanting slogans like “The winds of change are coming,” the president of Wind Concerns Ontario, John Laforet told The Independent that he was seeing similar reactions in several of the municipalities that he had visited in his ‘Winds of Change Tour’.
“It shows you how angry people are,” said Laforet, “We’ve been fighting for three years, and we’ve done a great job in slowing things down, but we are running out of time,” he added referring to the provincial election which is set for October 6.
Laforet says that rural Ontarians can’t afford to elect another Liberal government, and he is encouraging all who are concerned about proposed wind farms in their communities to vote for PC candidates in the election. The PC party has committed to a moratorium on future wind farm developments until more studies have been conducted on the potential impact of wind turbines.
More than 80 municipalities in Ontario have passed resolutions in support of a moratorium.
Opponents of industrial wind farms cite a variety of health issues, reductions in property values and the effect on natural habitats as some of the issues that make wind farms unwelcome neighbours.
As passing motorists honked their horns in support of the protestors, Eccles took time away from his event to come outside to talk to them and to share his views on the issue.
After shaking hands with Laforet, Eccles was grilled about his own views on the Green Energy Act and wind turbines in particular.
When asked by Laforet if he is in support of a moratorium until further studies have been conducted, Eccles said that he supports the democratic process, and the Green Energy Act itself.
That response drew calls of “Shame! Shame!” from the protesters, and caused Laforet to declare that the Green Energy Act is a fraud.
“The Green Energy Act is about removing local control, it is about denying science, it’s about creating a phony economy with phantom jobs, it’s a fraud. That’s what the Green Energy Act is,” Laforet shot back resulting in cheers from the crowd. “Claiming there’s 50,000 jobs when there is nowhere near that is fraud. Claiming you’re going to clean the air with wind turbines when you are building natural gas plants to back them up is fraud. Denying the need to do a study when no study has been done is criminal. You’ve got people suffering in their homes while your party is saying there is no need to do a study (that) is shameful.”
Laforet told Eccles that he is a former Liberal party member and riding president who left the party over the wind issue.
“I don’t understand how you can run for a party that doesn’t believe in making sure that residents in your riding are protected,” offered Laforet.
For his part, Eccles who is the mayor of West Grey – one of the municipalities who have passed a resolution requesting a moratorium on wind developments – conceded that there is likely a need for further studies to be conducted.
“They are looking for a moratorium. Is there some science that needs to be found out there? I think so,” said Eccles during a media scum inside Meaford Hall while protestors continued to chant and blow whistles outside, “But at this point in time, with what has been put forward by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Energy, obviously the ministers are satisfied with it.”
When asked if he was surprised with the protest taking place outside of Meaford Hall, Eccles said that he thinks that protests are an important part of the democratic process.
“The only way to move forward is to hear all sides, so I am pleased that people will come forward and speak up,” offered Eccles.
Eccles also expressed a hope that the wind turbine issue doesn’t overshadow other important issues in the election campaign.
“In the rural ridings people are coming forward saying that it is an important issue, and I think that it is probably one of the leading issues,” said Eccles, “The wind issue is one issue, but the province of Ontario is made up of considerably more. There are a lot of education issues, there’s a lot of health issues, senior issues and all of that. I would hate to think that we would run a campaign on one issue when life in general is a lot more complex than one issue.”
Although he was emphatic in his support for the Green Energy Act, Eccles said that there is still room for improvement.
“From my municipal experience, I think one of the biggest things that I would look at is pre-consultation for the developing groups to come forward pre-application. That the community and the municipality is aware of what is going on. If we can be ahead of the game instead of tagging along behind, that I believe in an important issue for municipalities.”