The image remains seared into the consciousness of everyone who witnessed the grotesque spectacle. The full power and fury of the state and its legal might, side by side with one of most powerful law firms in Canada, arrayed against the grey-haired volunteers of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. Five Goliaths against one David.
One side funded by taxpayers and corporate interests, the other by donations and the kindness of individuals in this community. One side working to forestall the demise of species at risk, the other side hungrily pursuing profits. Alongside them were government lawyers dispatched from Toronto to defeat the County’s Field Naturalists.
How did we get here? How did the people of Ontario become the enemy of the state?
At a moment in history when liberal democracy looks more fragile than it has done in 70 years, the troubles infecting this province may seem trivial by comparison. It isn’t trivial to the folks of PECFN still working to pay their legal bill. Nor to the folks still battling yet another powerful developer and an unrepentant province in South Marysburgh. Or on Amherst Island.
Yet it is only by understanding how and why governments turn against their people that we see the roots of unrest and decay in democracy. A goodly portion of Americans who despise Donald Trump will vote for him next month, not because they believe he is a better candidate than his opponent, but because they want to throw a brick through the window of a government they believe is working against their interests.
To be clear, this isn’t a defence of their choices, but rather a caution that we are not immune to the illness that has infected American politics in this cycle.
I expect most of the handful of folks who volunteer with PECFN would not describe themselves as political. Their interests lie mostly in the natural world and the beasts that populate it. PECFN didn’t set out do battle with a provincial government indifferent to the plight of its own endangered species, or with a corporation determined to reap profits from industrializing the County’s south shore. They were thrust into this fight because the provincial government shredded its own protections and safeguards to give corporate interests free rein.
But why? What drives elected officials to use the state’s power and resources against those working to protect the natural world it has abandoned?
We got a glimpse last week when Kathleen Wynne defended her government’s cap and trade emmissions scheme. She told a business audience in Niagara Falls that Ontarians are “very bad actors” in terms of per capita emissions of greenhouse gases. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue—or offhand remark. These words were part of a scripted speech.
Fortunately for the wretched folks in this province, we have a premier who understands good and bad—better than we do. She has unveiled the selfish and narrow view through which we see the world around us. Kathleen Wynne will be our better selves.
In this morality play your provincial government has decided it will not work in your interest— but rather what it believes your interest ought to be. It knows this better than you. Kathleen Wynne, and Dalton McGuinty before her, believe they know what is best, and cling to the hope that history will judge them better than Ontario’s weak and myopic voters do now.
But untethered by accountability to its voters and deaf to its ministries’ advice and counsel, provincial Liberals have made a terrible mess of the energy supply system in Ontario. It will take decades to fix. It has squandered billions of dollars chasing schemes unworthy of a Nigerian postmark. It has pushed manufacturing jobs out of the province. And it has rendered electricity bills that are unaffordable for many of its poorest rural residents. Meanwhile, it has made a select group of developers very, very wealthy.
In turn, they have dutifully filled her parties’ coffers— to arm her for the next election.
How is it that the most righteous tend to be the most susceptible to corruption and misdeeds? There is something distinctly Shakespearean in this tragedy.
In 2011, facing an election Energy Minister Brad Duguid announced a moratorium on offshore wind development. Loud opposition was building in Duguid’s own riding at the prospect of industrial wind turbines rising just offshore from the Scarborough Bluffs. The science was unsettled, he said. But it was politics pure and simple. Duguid and the Liberals won the election. This week, taxpayers of this province learned the cost of his calculation.
This is because Duguid’s decision also scuttled a project to build offshore wind turbines near Wolfe Island by American developer Windstream Energy. The company sued. Last week ,a court awarded the company $25 million plus its legal expenses of nearly $3 million. Ontario taxpayers are on the hook for this bill. Furthermore, the developer maintains that its 300 MW contract, worth $5.2 billion, is still in effect.
It is the largest award ever ordered under the North American Free Trade Agreement—yet it is just the most recent cheque written by this government for power that will not be generated.
Ontarians have, indeed, been very bad actors.