Bill Mauro stood before a hastily assembled group of reporters and nature groups in May 2009. The MPP representing Thunder Bay–Atikokan was back home with money from Queen’s Park— $107,000 for the protection of species at risk in the area.
“People in our communities are concerned about the protection of species at risk and the development of best practices to ensure that we experience the economic benefits acquired through our natural resources while minimizing harm to natural habitats,” the MPP said.
The local press scribbled notes and filed stories about the caring and environmentally sensitive provincial government.
But Mauro had other worries that day. An industrial wind energy developer was planning to erect as many as 16 wind turbines on the escarpment forming the edge of his home town of Thunder Bay. Mauro strongly opposed the project, but the ambitious Liberal MPP was a member of Dalton McGuinty’s government, which at that moment was putting the finishing touches to the Green Energy Act (GEA)—the sweeping bit of egregious legislation that would obliterate many of the provincial safeguards standing in the way of the rapid escalation of industrial wind power in the province.
Mauro’s own government was pushing ahead with the industrialization of the rugged hillside near Thunder Bay that many in his community opposed because of environmental concerns. Now, the GEA had made that much easier.
Mauro worked behind the scenes with opposition groups including the Fort Williams First Nations, environmentalists and the concerned resident group, the Nor’Wester Escarpment Protection Committee. In 2011 he had good news to report. Linda Jeffrey, then Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, had just advised the developer the project was likely to “harm, harass or kill” peregrine falcons.
“I have serious concerns about the effect the proposed project could potentially have on the recovery of peregrine falcons in Ontario,” wrote Minister Linda Jeffrey. “I am not prepared to issue a permit at this time, nor do I understand how a permit could be issued for this site.”
Opponents to the project, including the mayor of Neebing, the community closest to the project, were thrilled.
“This is the best news I’ve heard about the project since becoming Mayor. I want to thank Bill Mauro for his hard work on this issue,” said Mayor Ziggy Polkowski.
But despite the setback, the wind developer pushed on, perhaps anticipating intervention from higher up the Queen’s Park food chain.
But Mauro wasn’t taking any chances. After he was re-elected in the fall of 2011, the MPP sought reassurance from his new cabinet colleagues. The MPP reached out to Environment Minister Jim Bradley and Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle asking them to not give the Toronto-based company a permit to erect the turbines.
Finally, in July 2013, the Ontario Power Authority officially scrapped the project. Mauro stayed out of the limelight that day.
“My position on the project has been publicly known for a very long time,” was all Mauro would say to the CBC reporter.
Today Bill Mauro is Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry—appointed in June last year. He moved into the office more than a year after his department had issued a permit to a wind developer freeing them to “harm, harass and kill” Blanding’s turtles at Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County.
Mauro might have hoped to dodge this issue—after all the permit was granted before he became minister. But that cover is now gone.
Last week, his ministry’s own turtle expert revealed he had warned his superiors in the department that the project would risk high mortality to the Blanding’s turtle—a threatened species under the province’s Endangered Species Act.
Now the ball is solidly in Mauro’s court.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry worked hard as an MPP to protect his community and the species at risk in his region’s environment against the prevailing winds blowing in his party.
So questions arise: Will he apply a different standard now that he is the minister? Will he act to protect species at risk that aren’t in the Thunder Bay-Atikokan region? Will he move to restore the credibility of his department with regard to endangered species?
As Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bill Mauro has the power to revoke the “harm, harass and kill” permits his department granted to developers of industrial wind turbine projects. The minister can no longer hide behind the pretense that these endangered species will be better off. He knows it is a lie. And now everyone else does too.
The Minister’s next move will provide a clear signal as to whether he is guided by his own beliefs and principles, or simply there to follow orders.
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