COLUMN: Municipalities be damned

Another round of green energy projects were announced in Eastern Ontario last week. South Stormont was lucky enough to be among the 16 locations approved by the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). North Stormont was just as fortunate. The outrage to some, including local MPP Jim McDonnell was that both winners were “non-willing hosts”. The respective councils had stated they did not want green energy projects. Too bad for them according to the IESO.

“The people of North Stormont and the Township of North Stormont said a clear no to wind farms in their township, rejecting the $9 million incentive offered by the developer in exchange for municipal support. This approval makes a mockery of due process and consultation.” remarked Jim McDonell during Question Period, Queens Park, March 10, 2016

McDonell and other Progressive Conservatives have made a lot of noise in opposition for almost a decade. They have railed, protested, and even shouted-down Liberals over their schemes. When municipalities have made the point that they do not want solar or wind developments, the Liberals have overridden them. Of course the PC’s have been there to howl about that too.

The merits, or lack thereof, of the green energy schemes of the provincial Liberals aside, this is an issue of municipal rights. The right of a municipality to govern their jurisdiction of what is and is not allowed. The PC’s, McDonell included, forget their own party’s history on this issue.

During the late 1990’s, the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris downloaded to the municipalities many provincial services ranging from ambulances to provincial highways. That same government foisted upon municipalities, large and small, amalgamation. These were marriages of convenience, rather than of logic in many cases. School boards had the same consolidation, in the name of reducing management and administration costs. Twenty years later we’re still waiting to see those reductions.

Let’s go back further. During the 1950’s the provincial government, also Progressive Conservative, ran roughshod over municipal jurisdictions when the St. Lawrence-Seaway was built. Municipal governments were an annoyance to progress. If a municipality was in the way, move it or flood it. The province could, and did, what they wanted.

The strong-arming of municipal utilities and construction of the electrical grid in Ontario in the 1900’s and 1910’s were the product of the ruling Conservatives of the time. Rights-of-way were given, and utility wires went up with minimal notice and zero consultation, all in the name of progress.

Provincial governments can overrule municipal governments at any time. Municipalities have no standing or protection under the Canadian constitution. The fix is in, has always been in, and always will be in. It was designed that way to keep power in the hands of the federal and provincial governments. If the provincial government wanted to, they could pass an act that would dissolve all municipal governments tomorrow. That wouldn’t be all that bad of an idea, depending on what municipality you are talking of.

The PC’s can grouse all they want about what the Wynne Liberals are doing to the province. McDonell can state over and over again how he “won’t let this slide”. In this case, the goose and the gander both have used the same process for similar political means. Municipalities, be damned.

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