The Liberals dogged loyalty to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s green energy policies cost the party their majority in last week’s election, according to some high-profile local opponents to industrial wind turbines.
“When you look at the province it’s a huge blue (Progressive Conservative) area with a couple of big cities that have enough Liberals to get elected. It’s pretty obvious those people aren’t affected and didn’t take interest in the industrial wind turbine problems. Yet if you look at the country ridings, you start knocking off the minister of agriculture, the minister of the environment, it’s pretty obvious there’s a problem. I hope the government has a look at that,” Mark Davis, the deputy-mayor of Arran-Elderslie and the leading opponent to wind farms on his municipality council, said in a weekend interview.
Lorrie Gillis, a Flesherton-area activist, said she heard “over and over again” during the election campaign people say “I don’t normally vote PC but on this issue I’m going to.”
Gillis and Davis aren’t alone in their assessment of the impact of Liberal energy policies on the outcome of the election.
Columns and news reports in, among other publications, the Globe and Mail, the London Free Press, the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen – all based in urban centres that voted Liberal – pointed to rural opposition to industrial wind turbines as a factor in seven incumbent rural Liberal MPPs losing their seats to Progressive Conservative candidates. Among them were Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Carol Mitchell in Huron-Bruce, John Wilkinson, the environment minister, in Perth-Wellington and Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky in Prince Edward-Hastings.
“I have no doubt, honestly I have no doubt” the Green Energy Act cost the Liberals their majority, Gillis said.
“That was my motivation on supporting my candidate here and I know it was the same in other ridings . . . I know it was.”
Green Energy Act opponents were hoping for a Progressive Conservative majority. Party leader Tim Hudak had promised a moratorium on wind farms until new studies on the impact of industrial turbines were completed. He also said he would tear up contracts the Liberals signed to attract green energy manufacturing jobs to the province and end generous incentives for developers of wind and solar power.
“We got the job half done,” said Davis, adding: “I had a concern right from the get-go about the city ridings. Most of them that voted, only half of them ever heard about an industrial wind turbine. If they can’t see it or hear it or feel it or touch it. That’s what’s wrong with this province – the level of city ridings compared with country ridings.”
“There definitely was anti-wind sentiment out there” during the election campaign, said Bill Walker, the newly elected Progressive Conservative MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. “I think the biggest piece of it was actually taking the local autonomy away. What I was hearing, particularly from people who weren’t Conservative, was we just can’t go with a guy who’s going to take our local autonomy and the say of the local politicians away and I heard that fairly significantly, fairly regularly across the riding from all kinds of people.”
The Liberals are one seat shy of a majority and New Democratic Party policy is to support renewable energy. The NDP also said it would honour all Green Energy and Economy Act contracts, but Gillis takes comfort in the party’s promise of more municipal involvement in deciding where industrial wind turbines would be allowed.
“People have been trying to say ‘Whoa, let’s do this sensibly’ and the Liberal government, the previous Liberal government, just carried on and rolled over everybody,” she said.
“What we need is to put the brakes on, (legislate) proper setbacks based on proper science and move forward from that,” Gillis added. “I know I sound like a broken record but you know it’s not really complicated. I know what I know, I’ve seen what I’ve seen and there’s an awful lot of people out there suffering even now” from living too close to huge win turbines, she said.