Sunday, February 25, 2024

We’re Engaged but Divided… And That’s Okay

Monday’s council meeting was expected to be heavily attended, and it was. In anticipation of much larger than normal attendance, municipal staff moved the meeting from the cramped council chamber on the 7th Line to the spacious opera house at Meaford Hall, which allowed some 200 residents to attend the meeting in which the Deputy Mayor brought forward a motion expressing conditional support for the proposed pumped storage facility on Meaford’s military base.

As someone who loves democracy, it was uplifting to see so many attend the February 27 meeting, and it was even more uplifting that council voted in favour of waiving the maximum of ten deputations permitted during a council meeting, ensuring that the 22 residents who had registered to speak had the opportunity.

The motion brought forward by the Deputy Mayor had sparked much debate on social media in the days leading up to the February 27 meeting. From the moment the notice of motion was given a few weeks prior, it became the talk of the town.

In our February 9 print paper, I had written about the notice of motion. I wrote that while I understood the reasoning behind the motion, I questioned if now was the right time for it, given public sentiment, and that there didn’t seem to be any urgency to pass such a motion at this time. As I wrote in our February 9 newspaper:

I understand what the Deputy Mayor is doing, and why she is doing it, but it certainly would not have been a move that I would have recommended given the significant opposition to the proposal.

The Deputy Mayor is right to suggest that if this project is to move forward, this municipality should fight for the best deal possible, given that the municipality itself has no say in any shape or form when it comes to this project, so if it is to be thrust upon an unwilling host, the least council can do is to fight for a sweet deal. That said, I don’t think there is a need to bring forward such a motion at this time.

Over the past few years I have had untold numbers of conversations with residents who oppose the proposed facility, as well as with those who support the proposal. And while the voices of those opposed have been significantly louder, there has been support in this community for the project from the outset, and we heard that from some of the speakers at Monday’s council meeting.

One of the biggest frustrations with this issue is that we have no data to tell us what the public actually thinks. In the absence of any polling data or a referendum (which would have had to have been a question on the ballot at election time), we can’t really say just how strong the opposition to the proposal really is. I found myself in the crosshairs of opponents recently when I suggested that a referendum might be closer than opponents of the proposal might think. An innocent enough, and real enough, observation I thought, but it raised the ire of some opponents, but facts are facts. If you scour letters to the editor over the past few years you will find several that express support for the proposal, and anecdotal though it may be, I can assure you that many come into my office to chat and quietly discuss their support for the proposal – quietly, for fear of raising the ire of vocal opponents.

Nevertheless, I think it is certainly fair to say that opinions are varied on the issue, and though the opposition to the proposal has been vocal, support for the project in this community certainly exists.

I don’t count myself as a supporter of the proposal, or an opponent. I count myself in the category of indifferent. As I have written in the past, I wildly object to the use of our military bases for corporations to profit, yet I acknowledge the need for storing energy, and I don’t have any particular issues with pumped storage, in fact I’d take pumped storage over the very dirty business that is batteries any day. That said, I respect that there are those who are passionate in their opposition, and while I might not agree with all of their reasons for opposing the proposal, I certainly respect the views they hold.

Monday’s council meeting was healthy for this community. The meeting allowed for a large number of residents to express themselves, to express opposition to the project, or to share their support for the proposal, and all were heard by council, by municipal staff, by residents, and by TC Energy, representatives of which were on hand for the important meeting.

I certainly wasn’t in envy of members of council on Monday, as it is such a fine line to walk in order to balance the apparent will of the people with harsh realities that face this municipality. Councillor Harley Greenfield, Meaford’s longest serving member of council, was passionate in his opposition to the motion, as was Councillor Brandon Forder, just as other members of council were passionate about protecting the best interests of this community in the face of a mega-project, a project so large that it is difficult to even fathom.

There is a long road ahead, and while our council has voted in favour of supporting the proposal, that support comes with important conditions, all aimed at protecting the best interests of this municipality.

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