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Big-city exodus, wind-whipped anger

First, they took Southwestern Ontario.

Next stop, Toronto?

And will all that wind-whipped anger, built up over the rapid growth of unwanted industrial wind turbines in Ontario, do any good?

Those are the big questions left dangling after frustrated anti-wind turbine activists shut down part of Hwy. 402 over the weekend, with a slow-motion protest rally that crawled along a 30-km stretch of one of the busiest regional highways.

The next step could be a similar protest along the nation’s busiest super-highway, the 401, ending at Queen’s Park in the mega-city.

“I think it’s time to up the ante,” Dave Griffiths, a leader of the anti-turbine coalition Wind Concerns Ontario, said Sunday.

“I think the next movement will be to (drive to) Queen’s Park with a mass protest that makes this one look small,” said Griffiths, who doubles as head of Bluewater Against Turbines.

The coalition will begin planning its next move Monday.

The options could include the Hwy. 401 protest, Griffiths said.

Fired-up farmers in about 150 vehicles shut down one-third of Hwy. 402 west of Strathroy.

Angry at the runaway growth of industrial wind turbines, many of them built in Southwestern Ontario, turbine opponents have waged battle with the Liberal government and the province on political, legal and social media fronts. But still the big wind farms are sprouting, the province not giving up the control it took away from communities over where turbines can be built, but saying new ones won’t go where they are unwanted.

The pickup trucks and farm machinery, even a manure spreader, crawled with a police escort from Forest to Strathroy.

“Premier Wynne, you will learn we are a tough crowd,” activist Esther Wrightman warned. “We will not be bullied and terrorized any more.”

Dozens of Ontario communities, including many in the Southwest, have joined an anti-turbine movement, as “unwilling hosts” for the high-rise-sized power generators the province has pushed, paying hefty taxpayer subsidies to producers.

But some observers say anti-wind activists are in for a tough fight if they expect the minority government to back down now.

Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal couldn’t be reached, but Health Minister Deb Matthews said the government has moved to give rural areas more voice.

“We’re not going to undo the existing contracts, but going forward we’re going to make sure the community has a much louder voice,” the London North Centre MPP said.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli echoed that in an e-mail, adding: “neither the PCs or the NDP have committed to canceling any existing . . . project.”

But two area politicians suggested no one should hold their breath waiting for change.

MPP Ernie Hardeman (PC – Oxford): The region’s ranking Tory, and a former agriculture minister, Hardeman said the Liberals are “really doing exactly what they did when Kathleen Wynne first became leader, which was paying no attention to what rural Ontario has to say and it doesn’t seem to have changed at all.”

He said the government made promises it hasn’t kept, such as “making sure they’re (wind turbines) not being built anywhere they didn’t have a willing host.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley: “If they really want to send a message the Wynne government is different, and they’re willing to re-think this idea of local control (over wind farms), it would go a long way to repairing the relationship . . .” Rural Ontario has gone “the megaphone route because they just don’t think the government will move politically,” he said.