The Wellington Times, September 18, 2015
What to expect next
It’s hard to gauge what the fallout will be from the Environmental Review Tribunal, which was put on hold over a week ago while managers and technical support at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) dig through their paperwork to find any documents related to the proposed wind project at Ostrander Point.
As Prince Edward Hastings MPP Todd Smith points out, until larger players in provincial and national media understand what’s happening, that fallout could be minimal.
Speaking from Toronto, Smith said he will do his best to help them understand the implication of what happened in Demorestville two Fridays ago.
“I don’t think that the media here in the GTA… really understand what the government is doing by imposing these projects on unwilling hosts,” says Smith. “I’m hoping that I can really elevate that here so the media in Toronto starts to tell the story of these small communities outside the GTA and the impact it’s having on them. That’s going to be my focus going forward.”
The years-long, drawn out tug-of-war between Gilead Power Company and the residents of Prince Edward County came to a head when, at the second Tribunal, it came to light that an expert—a researcher for the Ministry of Natural Resources— had recommended against a permit to kill, harm and harass an endangered species.
His recommendation was not in the evidence supplied to the lawyers who argued that the project would cause serious and irreversible harm to that species, the Blanding’s turtle.
It was an omission that called into question the entire renewable energy process. Ontarians rely the integrity and thoroughness of such reviews. Departments like the MNRF are expected to make unbiased decisions based on this expert advice, not politicized decisions to a political end.
“The government is ignoring its own laws,” says Smith. “They’re ignoring their own scientific experts under the premise that they’re doing something good for the environment when clearly all of the evidence is showing they’re probably doing more harm to the environment than any good that can be achieved by forcing these projects on unwilling host communities.”
County mayor Robert Quaiff, whose planned meeting with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change was cancelled this week after the hiatus was called on the Tribunal, says although we don’t know the outcome, the new information gives hope.
Jolanta Kowalski, a media relations officer for the MNRF, argues that the decision-making process is more nuanced, and relies on a variety of experts to come up with an overall picture of what should be done.
Kowalski declined to discuss the specific decision in question, because the researcher is currently in cross-examination at the suspended Tribunal. She did explain the MNRF’s process in general terms, though.
“MNRF staff review and evaluate applications for permits made under the ESA [Endangered Species Act]. Evaluation and development of a permit can take months, and a team would be involved that could include biologists, ecologists, botanists, policy staff, planners, lands experts among others. The team approach works well and a variety of views are taken in to account,” Kowalski explains. “In the end, a recommendation is made based on the requirements of the ESA.”
Kowalski says the information is collated to determine the overall benefit, based on a clause in the act. They determine if, given imposed requirements, the project can achieve an overall benefit to the species, whether reasonable alternatives have been considered and whether steps have been taken minimize adverse effects.
It seems in this case, much of that evidence came from studies of a different species of turtle with different nesting patterns. In the end, the MNRF’s expert on the Blanding’s turtle conceded that in studying the application to grant a permit to kill, harm or harass that species, he told his superiors it should not be granted.
Smith is pursuing answers from the ministers involved, but is not confident they’ll be easy to come by from what he calls “a stubborn government that won’t change its course.”
“This week, we’ve had an agreement signed between Ontario and Quebec to bring green, renewable energy—hydroelectric power—from Quebec into Ontario.” says Smith.
“So If we have an agreement to get green, renewable— affordable—energy into Ontario, why are we continuing down this road of building these solar and wind energy projects at a much higher price with a bigger impact on the communities, in communities that don’t want them. It just doesn’t make any sense.”