Cheol Joon Baek
Residents got one chance to get info on wind farm, but enviros hogged the mic.
Ah, there's nothing quite like a public meeting in Scarborough to make me feel nostalgic for my childhood home - and for the merits of good old-fashioned political education.
The wind energy showdown, Monday, November 24, at Laurier Collegiate in Scarborough's Guildwood Village seems, at first glance, like a classic NIMBY battle pitting local residents against downtown greenies and Toronto Hydro bureaucrats.
But it doesn't really look that way to me, despite the fact that I'm blown away (excuse the pun) by the idea that wind fanning off the Bluffs could power the city's first turbine operation.
I guess the problem here is that this isn't an Ontario Municipal Board hearing where folks have to pack the hall because the process is unfair and rich lawyers are trying to take over neighbourhoods for rich developers.
This is a Q&A - one already cancelled once for lack of space - where residents have their sole chance to get Toronto Hydro to address their concerns.
Enviros, hyped and over-organized, don't seem to get that this is their big opportunity to meet the community, find common ground and ultimately win them over.
Scarberians (as we call ourselves, but, by the way, we don't extend that privilege to others) are a relatively straightforward lot who, for good reason, look suspiciously on the big corporate or government agencies who come knocking.
It doesn't mean east-enders are all climate change deniers or energy neanderthals. Sure, a vocal minority of locals in the Toronto Wind Energy Watch and others have been creating their own renewable energy resource with the hot air they've expelled blaming wind turbines for everything from house pets' loose bladders to epileptic seizures.
But many of the thousand in attendance are here seeking clarification. John Parkinson, whose home is one of the handful with a view that on a clear day goes all the way to Rochester, says he has no problem with the idea of testing the wind levels.
"Maybe there are other areas with better wind, though I understand that there is a shallow shelf here, which is a benefit. However I have no problem with the project. We've got to be more environmentally responsible," he says. "But if there are houses that can see right across the lake, some consideration should be made to those concerned about their house values. That makes sense."
Doesn't sound like an intransigent attitude to me, though I'm betting Richardson is less inclined to support windmills after the meeting than before.
Most residents, judging by the few who actually can get to the mix and the many I speak to, have questions like: Will a wind farm be financially viable? Who takes care of maintenance? Will turbines be removed if they are decommissioned? Do wind farms pose health risks? Are the Bluffs the best place for turbines or is this just politically expedient?
Reasonable questions, but the best info they're getting is how to stack a meeting so that one side hogs the question time and fills the precious hours with enviro bumph that, unless you're living under a rock, you already know.
The locals constantly heckle the speakers, many of whom have arrived on shuttle buses organized by Toronto Environmental Alliance, the Suzuki Foundation and other groups, demanding that they declare where in the city they live.
"I'm scratching my head here," a perplexed Franz Hartmann of the TEA tells me in the middle of the meeting. "This is supposed to be a public meeting. We're all from Toronto. I didn't realize there was a geographic area you had to come from."
I understand why Hartmann is confused, but I have little sympathy. Greens should know better by now. This meeting is a recipe for bad feelings and little insight: a skeptical but reasonable community who already feel outside the political and social zeitgeist of Toronto, a vocal wind-power-hostile minority and a team of enviros who smell victory.
Instead of asking intelligent questions, they use their mic time to hector locals with sermons on enviro saintliness. Perhaps the most galling is Peter Tabuns, running for the Ontario NDP leadership, who yells into the mic as though he's practising for question period in the legislature. Look, buddy, you've got a platform every day. These people have one shot to ask questions.
But residents who don't have speaking notes, maybe are a bit shy but have questions, hang back a bit too long, and next thing you know they're standing in line for an hour and half. By that time, not only have enviros lost a great chance of gaining new allies, they've confirmed everything the locals suspect - that this plan is a done deal.
Look, I support this wind farm 100 per cent. We need more, bigger and bolder initiatives than this. But since we must move so much faster on climate change than we are, it's too bad activists seem keener on winning arguments than winning people over.
Exchange between member of the Toronto Waterfront Wind Watch and Toronto Hydro Energy Service' Joyce McLean
Local resident in favour of wind testing off the Bluffs
Local resident John Lennie and other questions to Toronto Hydro officials
John Lennie again speaking about the public consultation process
Another exchange between local resident and Hydro.