Local pixels, local products and a local protest were all on Kathleen Wynne’s agenda Friday during a stop in Stratford.
The Ontario premier toured the University of Waterloo Stratford campus and Monforte Dairy before attending a fundraising dinner hosted by provincial Liberal candidate Stewart Skinner and the Perth-Wellington Liberal Riding Association.
As she arrived for the meal at the Army Navy and Air Force Veterans hall, Wynne was greeted by about a dozen wind turbine protesters carrying “Not a Willing Host” signs.
“We just want the premier to know that there are 73 municipalities and community groups that have declared themselves not willing hosts,” said Listowel-area dairy farmer Tim Martin, as he stood with the group waving signs to passing motorists on Lorne Ave.
Despite claiming to have changed the process behind siting wind turbines, Wynne’s Liberals are still essentially ignoring municipalities – like North Perth – who don’t want them within their boundaries, suggested Martin.
“So that’s why we’re here. We’re just hoping to get the premier’s attention,” he said.
They did that.
After arriving at the hall, Wynne stepped out of her vehicle and walked over to greet the protesters.
She acknowledged that there are “strong feelings” about wind turbine projects in Ontario.
“There’s strong feeling on both sides,” she told the crowd huddled around her by the roadside. “We are putting a new process in place. If we could roll back time and have a better process up front I would do that. We can’t do that, but we’re very aware that having community planning and community buy-in is the way that we need to go.”
After those brief comments, Wynne met privately with Martin and another representative to hear their concerns in more detail.
“It was a polite conversation,” said Martin afterward. “She listened, but I didn’t get the impression that there was going to be any action taken.”
Martin said protesters were specifically looking for a moratorium on new wind turbine projects until the potential health effects can be studied more thoroughly.
Larger setbacks from farming operations – 2,500 metres instead of the current 550 – would also go a long way toward alleviating some concerns, he said.
“The reset button needs to be pushed on this,” he said of the Green Energy Act in general.
While Wynne made him no promises, Martin said he was pleased that she at least agreed to speak with representatives from the group Friday.
“But actions speak louder than words,” he said.
While the protest was peaceful and polite, Wynne received a much warmer welcome earlier in the day as University of Waterloo officials gave her a guided tour of the Stratford campus.
Mayor Dan Mathieson and former Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson, both of whom were instrumental in bringing the university campus to Stratford, also attended.
“It seems like there’s a lot of creative energy here,” said Wynne after popping into one of the second-floor project rooms to meet some of the Global Business and Digital Arts students at work.
Among the multimedia projects in process was one involving a “zombie love story,” the premise of which was sketched out on the classroom whiteboard.
“Everyone loves zombies,” commented one student.
Wynne wrinkled her nose.
“We’re trying to contribute to what the university of the 21st century might look like,” director of academic programs Christine McWebb told Wynne as the group stood on the upper floor, overlooking the towering Christie Digital Microtiles wall.
“It is absolutely beautiful,” she said of the building.
After the tour, the premier was whisked off to Monforte Dairy on Griffith Road, where she sat down with cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen to sample a camembert with tarragon, a fenugreek fontina and a cream cheese.
Wynne preferred the camembert, but said she was impressed with the entire operation.
In fact, just last month, it received the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, and the $75,000 prize will go toward establishing a cheesemaking school at the local plant.
“It’s consistent with what I’ve been talking about around investing in and supporting our strengths,” said Wynne. “So here we have a great model, we have an innovative idea, and if we’re going to grow our economy, it’s these ideas that need to be supported, because this is where jobs are going to be created.”
“If we’re going to compete globally, never mind with Europe, we need to celebrate and support the best ideas,” she added.
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