Well, last night we had a Town Hall Meeting with the Hon. George Smitherman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, regarding the proposed “Peaker” Plant to be built inside the Marsh. It was certainly an interesting meeting.

It started out with Mr. Smitherman essentially asserting that he has no intentions of taking any of the questions that were to be asked of him into any level of personal consideration (something categorically confirmed in answer to one of the questioner’s later questions). So, you could say that it got off to a bad start, as far as residents were concerned. The MP presented his case for the need for the plant, and then Pristine Power had their chance to talk, as well as a representative from the OPA (Ontario Power Authority). It was interesting to hear Mr. Smitherman comment on how poorly protocol was followed before he was given the assignment to the Ministry of Energy, and then state that in the end it didn’t really matter how the decision was made (not in so many words, of course).

After the initial presentations, residents and other citizens were given an opportunity to ask the panel some questions. Mr. Smitherman employed a simple tactic: berate the intelligence of each questioner and then use an argument from authority to say the exact opposite of whatever the questioner had asserted. I know that I was not the only one who was unimpressed by his willingness to insult the public who he is charged to serve, but I guess you don’t get the nickname of “McGuinty’s attack dog” for nothing. (It doesn’t help, perhaps, that he comes from an ultra-liberal Toronto riding, and he was addressing residents of a significantly conservative, rural riding…) At one point, this tactic backfired on him when he tried to accuse a lady of lying about not being allowed to review the selection procedure results, only to have another member of the panel contradict him and argue that such transparency of selection would discourage competition…

Mr. Smitherman seemed discouraged that the audience didn’t seem to trust him or the process very much, but if what he really wanted was for anyone to trust him, he wouldn’t have advised the Grower’s Association to use false advertising to soften any negative perceptions that might arise because of the harmful effects of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides on their crops. It also would have helped if the public were actually invited to what he called the “25 previous public meetings” with the company (there were several private meetings with specific individuals, but only one fully public meeting). I understand, of course, that some of his statements were correct and that some of the individuals had incorrect perceptions, but if you want to convince the public that what you are saying is trustworthy, you should use facts drawn from research rather than blanket statements based on your position.

As it stands, despite Mr. Smitherman’s guarantee that the plant would be built as a matter of fact, it cannot be built unless Enbridge is able to secure the proper approvals to build a high-pressure, natural gas pipeline to the site. This will require a separate environmental assessment and must meet fairly strict guidelines, so we’ll see how it goes…

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