TORONTO – In another skirmish at Queen’s Park regarding plans for wind turbines in Collingwood, Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson challenged Environment Minister Glen Murray on whether his ministry suppressed expert testimony.
Wilson was referring to an Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) hearing that took place in June in Collingwood regarding wpd Canada’s proposed wind turbines.
Wilson, house leader for the Progressive Conservative party, asked Murray why, at the last minute, the ministry decided to call a Nav Canada witness instead of a representative from Transport Canada during the ERT hearing.
Wpd Canada received provincial permission to install eight 500-foot wind turbines between a private aerodrome and within three kilometres of the Collingwood Regional Airport.
“Every pilot and airport official will tell you that calling a witness from Transport Canada would have made more sense since it’s the most knowledgeable and responsible agency tasked with ensuring aviation safety. We have reason to believe the change in witnesses was because Transport Canada did have concerns about the location of the 500-foot turbines and had a representative willing to testify. Can the minister please explain why there was a change in witnesses?” Wilson asked Murray.
During the exchange, posted on Wilson’s website, Murray denies there was political influence on the selection of witnesses.
“I know the law. I will not play a role in determining witnesses or have any influence on an Environmental Review Tribunal. I will keep it a non-political process and let the experts choose the witnesses,” Murray responded. “I wish the member opposite would not be politicizing it the way he has been because neither he nor I should be involved in this process.”
The tribunal, which was supposed to have issued a judgment Aug. 19, has still not released information to the appellants.
Wilson said the question was brought forward after his office received information of a change of witnesses.
“We received two pieces of new information,” Wilson said from his Queen’s Park office. “We found out that a federal representative of Transport Canada was told not to attend the ERT at the last minute and we were told repeatedly by pilots that Transport Canada were the ones that we needed to here from; they are the ones responsible for certifying these airports.”
Wilson also claims he has a report that states a Ministry of the Environment director sent a letter to the tribunal in August after the hearings, saying the ministry can no longer support the location of two of the turbines, presumably the two closest to the Collingwood Regional Airport.
“That’s some progress. So, the question was, did you tamper with the witness and, secondly, why don’t you consider the other six as dangerous as the other two because they are all in a cluster?” said Wilson. “From a pilot’s point of view, they are all just seconds away from each other.”
The project was approved by the province in February but was appealed by the County of Simcoe, two municipalities, environmental groups, Kevin Elwood and the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.
Elwood, a Clearview councillor and owner of the Stayner Aerodrome, was an appellant in the May-June hearing and has been fighting the project for years.
A decision on the appeal was expected Aug. 19 but was suspended.
In a Sept. 13 letter from Wilson to federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, Wilson stated his constituents do not want the wpd Canada Fairview Wind Project to proceed.
“As you may know, this project involves the construction of eight 500-foot industrial wind turbines between the Collingwood Regional Airport and the Stayner Aerodrome.”
The letter goes on to explain Elwood “believes this change in witnesses occurred because Transport Canada does not support the wind turbine locations due to safety threats they pose to pilots and passengers using the two airports.”
He concludes the letter by asking Transport Canada to outline its position as its representative did not appear at the hearing.
At the Sept. 26 Clearview council meeting, a copy of the letter was included in the council package.
Elwood updated council, saying the topic is coming up in the House of Commons Sept. 27, when the transportation critic will question Garneau about why the ministry “agreed to step down as an expert witness as requested by the province when it is a matter that lays within their jurisdiction – aviation.
“What’s come to light is that the directors in their final legal submissions the ERT hearing stated that they can no longer support turbine numbers 3 and 7 as approved.
“What this has also exposed is that Transport Canada their expert testimony would have been related to these turbine locations and their threat to aviation at Collingwood airport and Stayner Aerodrome.”
A decision regarding the wpd Canada wind turbine project is expected by Oct. 31, Elwood said.
— With files from Gisele Winton Sarvis