It took a romantic Valentine's Day dinner in a North Bay restaurant to blow the lid off how Toronto may soon be disposing of its trash. That's when Scott Caverly, an employee of Ontario Northland Railway (ONR), happened to notice a trio of corporate lovebirds moving into a table beside him.
Trash magnate Gordon McGuinty, as well as CN Rail executives Keith Heller and Scott Roberts, had been involved in a consortium to dump Toronto's garbage into Kirkland Lake's abandoned Adams Mine. The deal was apparently dead and buried in 2001, when Toronto and several suburban city councils voted to ship their garbage to Michigan instead.
But what McGuinty, Heller and Roberts allegedly discussed that evening at Churchill's -- a behind-the-scenes plan to revive Adams Mine -- disturbed Caverly so much that he decided to take it to the anti-dump Adams Mine Coalition.
Caverly, along with his wife, who was dining with him that night, has since agreed to swear out a statement.
In it Caverly alleges, among other things, that he heard the executives say they were "actively working in Michigan" to stir up dissent over the Toronto trash deal, and that they aimed to "buy off" neighbouring northeastern Ontario towns with community investment.
Normally, news organizations don't pay much heed to claims by a single source about an overheard conversation, but there are a number of other disturbing signals that Adams Mine may yet live again.
McGuinty did not return repeated phone calls from NOW requesting comment.
Roberts, CN's vice-president of operations, denies the charges. He maintains that the company is no longer involved with Adams Mine, even while CN is in the final stages of buying the provincial government-owned and money-losing ONR, which has tracks leading to Adams Mine.
"I've heard these allegations, and they're completely false," he says.
While he admits he had dinner with Heller and McGuinty, Roberts says the meeting was a social one. He says the trio were reminiscing about how the Adams Mine deal failed, not plotting to restart it.
According to Roberts, the dump consortium, which had included CN, ONR, McGuinty's Notre Development and several other companies, has been dissolved.
CN's plan to buy the ONR, he adds, has nothing to do with dumping. Lumber and mining transport contracts make it profitable enough.
Most of the media who assembled at a Queen's Park press conference last week to hear Caverly's claims were quick to dismiss them.
Caverly's decision to go public, he says, was not taken lightly. His union is a cautious proponent of the Adams Mine dump.
But it turns out, in fact, that several of Michigan's most vocal political opponents of the deal to ship Toronto's garbage stateside have received campaign contributions from CN.
Michigan dump opponent Representative John Dingell received $3,365 in campaign contributions over the past five years from an organization called the Grand Trunk Rail-Central Illinois Rail Political Action Committee (GTR-CIR PAC), a group funded solely by CN executives. He also received $500 from CN board member Gordon Giffin. GTR-CIR PAC gave $6,350 to former Michigan representative David E. Bonior and $3,500 to former senator Spencer Abraham. Both were active opponents of the Michigan dump. Senator Debbie Stabenow received $750 from GTR-CIR PAC, and Representative Mike Rogers $500. Rogers also received $3,000 from the Michigan-based CN subsidiary Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railroad.
In the past month, Rogers, Stabenow and Dingell have each introduced bills calling for border restrictions on trash. Their chances of passing are considered poor because they may violate NAFTA regulations. Still, U.S. opponents of dumping are highlighting it as a security issue -- a tremendous hot button south of the border -- since it's hard for border guards to search garbage trucks for that pesky and ever-present terrorist threat.
Roberts doesn't deny that CN made the contributions, but he says they are unrelated to the Adams Mine issue. "The political process is one that CN and virtually every other company in North America are engaged in," he says, adding that the company's executives regularly attend fundraising dinners and other events for a variety of public figures.
But the paper trail doesn't end there. Dump opponents also point out that a brief on Adams Mine that both McGuinty and CN submitted last fall to the northeastern Ontario smart growth panel talked about hauling trash to Adams Mine.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says he received a letter from McGuinty less than two weeks ago urging his city to support the dump. McGuinty's group has long courted Sarnia for its support because the southwestern Ontario city is critical of the Michigan deal. Some 200 Toronto garbage trucks must pass through it daily in order to cross the border.
"Trucking millions of tonnes of garbage to Michigan on Highways 401 and 403 is not necessary, as Toronto has an option for an Ontario solution," wrote McGuinty in the letter. "Rail haul to the Adams Mine can be operational in 18 months."
The letter was accompanied by a report reminding southwestern Ontario mayors of the hazards of shipping trash through their cities. Opponents of Adams Mine suspect the provincial government is still bent on getting Toronto's trash into Northern Ontario.
City works committee chair Brad Duguid and Angelos Bacopoulos, general manager of the city's solid waste management services, both say that they are cautiously optimistic that the Michigan deal will hold.
Bacopoulos, however, leaves the door open to what he terms an "Ontario-based" solution should Michigan fall through.
"Nobody's really happy transporting our garbage outside of the province," he says.