LITTLE CURRENT––The haunting strains of an Anishinaabe journey song echoed out across the waters of the North Channel and into foothills of the LaCloche Mountains as a throng of over 150 people marched, banners snapping in the wind, across Goat Island, over the historic Little Current swing bridge, and paraded down through the main streets of the town.
The Saturday, March 31 march began around 1 pm on CPR property about a kilometre north of the bridge, following speakers opposed to the Green Energy Act and wind farms, including Nippising MPP (and Tory energy critic) Vic Fedeli, who voiced their reasons for opposing the industrial wind farms planned for Manitoulin Island and the province’s Green Energy Act in general.
The event was billed as ‘Save the Great Spirit Island: a public forum to support the growing opposition to industrial wind farm development on Manitoulin Island and its waters hosted by Wikwemikong Elders, community members and youth.’
Co-masters of ceremonies for the pre-march gathering were Rosemary Wakegijig of Wikwemikong and Ray Beaudry of the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA). Mr. Beaudry began by providing background of the wind farm development and listing the many objections his group has highlighted in regards to the project, maintaining that the power will not be for Manitoulin, going off-Island before entering the province’s main grid and what he characterized as a growing global opposition to industrial wind energy developments, primarily focused on European experiences.
Ms. Wakegijig reinforced Mr. Beaudry’s comments, saying that, “Around the world they are getting out of wind power––we are just ramping up.” The cultural and environmental costs of industrial wind farms are counter to traditional Anishinaabek values, said Ms. Wakegijig. The Wikwemikong elder left shortly after the rally and march to journey to a major protest planned for the lawn of Queen’s Park slated to take place on Tuesday.
“By now, even the most optimistic folks have realized Ontario’s Green Energy Act is a complete bust,” said Mr. Fedeli, as he took to the stage and began a series of partisan salvos hammering the McGuinty government over its green energy policy. “Communities have been forced to accept wind and solar farms, which are paid some of the highest subsidies in the world to generate power the province simply doesn’t need,” asserted Mr. Fedeli. “Then we pay the US and Quebec hundreds of millions of dollars to take our excess power. So energy prices skyrocket and force companies to close or move. The more companies move away, the less demand we have, and the more surplus energy we pay to export. And the endless downward spiral continues.” Mr. Fedeli used an example of a company moving out of his own community to illustrate the impact of the province’s high energy costs.
“Dalton McGuinty created the Green Energy Act with the stated purpose being to ‘green’ Ontario’s energy through conservation and renewable generation,” asserted Mr. Fedeli. “To achieve this, the government removed all local municipal planning powers over development of renewable projects. When you neutralize the municipality (the public’s only forum to fight a rezoning), and put a ‘green’ label on it (which minimizes opposition), you’ve got the perfect storm for procedural abuses, failed fiscal oversight, and gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Mr. Fedeli claimed that the Auditor General has said that the province loses two-to-four jobs for every green job created.
NDP Algoma Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha sent his regrets to the gathering through the MCs, due to commitments to a meeting in Sault Ste. Marie, prompting a taunt of “That’s not even in his riding,” from the former federal Conservative candidate for the Sault Ste Marie riding and local Manitoulin property developer and businessman Jib Turner. Mr. Turner and his extended family were largely in attendance. Mr. Turner’s late father Barney is widely credited for saving critical parts of the North Channel and Bay of Islands from devastation through quarrying and causeway plans over the past half-century.
“This whole thing is just crazy,” said Mr. Turner, who added that he was adamant about retiring (at least temporarily) from active politics.
Island doctor and staunch wind farm opponent Dr. Roy Jeffery took to the podium to give his own views on the impact of industrial wind farms on the landscape of Manitoulin. “I am not going to talk about the health affects (of wind turbines),” said Dr. Jeffery. “That is too boring.” Instead, the doctor invoked the historical landscape of Manitoulin and how it must have appeared to the first visitors to this region and to those whose home it already was.
“Imagine what Manitoulin looked like before the arrival of the white man,” he said. “And look at the garbage they have left behind—hydro lines, hydro poles, the land doesn’t look anything like it did before.”
Dr. Jeffery castigated “the corporate wind investors from away,” who he said “will take away the resources and leave behind land that looks a little bit like this,” referencing the industrial lands and tarp covered debris at the protest site. “When are we going to recognize the land that we live on?” he asked.
As Dr. Jeffery invoked that final line, a member of the crowd pointed up to the sky and said, “Look, look!”
High overhead, a huge bald eagle soared on the updrafts, drifting back and forth above the gathering. The crowd erupted into cheers.
Mr. Turner’s grandson, Hunter Abotossaway, then took to the stage as a young Anishinaabe student, with his public speaking essay on wind turbines in hand.
“Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, how would you like to hear that noise 24 hours a day, seven days a week?” opened Mr. Abotossaway. “I know I sure wouldn’t want to while I was playing hockey or sledding or hunting. The topic I chose is the McLean’s Mountain wind turbine project and how it affects my family, friends and relatives.”
Mr. Abotossaway said in his speech that there is a lot of research and evidence that proves the large machines can “create heart issues, make diabetes levels unstable, ringing of the ears, seizures, and sleep disturbances.
“Research shows that the life span of a wind turbine is 20 years,” said Mr. Abotossaway. “So when I am 31, what happens to the wind turbines on McLean’s Mountain? We will have to look at these old rusted out landmarks? People have said that this issue doesn’t affect them, but it does affect all of us here in our Grade 6 class.”
The young student went on to cite impacts on tourism and the cost of energy before concluding that there are other green energy avenues that would be good for Manitoulin, including solar energy and water-based turbines (although he has doubts about the impact of the latter on fishing).
“I want a better green future for us all,” said Mr. Abotossaway. “But the government needs to look at this better so we all benefit from this and not just the rich getting richer.”
Wikwemikong Chief Hazel Fox Recollet spoke about the opposition her community has to wind farm development, having recently canceled their own wind farm development project. Chief Recollet referenced the low numbers from her community in attendance, pointing out that the recent unexpected passing of community elder Henry Peltier and the number of people who were attending the language conference in Sault Ste. Marie likely played a significant role in diminishing the numbers in attendance.
The crowd heard from David Grey Eagle Sanford, who Ms. Wakegijig identified as a successful wind farm opponent from the Six Nations reserve. Mr. Sanford’s voice spoke loudly of the dangers of wind farms, with apologies to his elders.
Birch Island resident Patrick Corbiere took to the stage to denounce what he characterized as a lack of local consultation in First Nations communities over participation in the project. “Our leaders are the first to complain about the not being consulted,” he said. “But where was our consultation of the community by our leadership?”
The assembled crowd then marshaled along Highway 6 under the watchful eye of a number of OPP and UCCM Tribal Police officers before marching across the swing bridge and down through Water Street before heading back up Meredith Street toward the top of the hill.
Along the path, a number of community members, both in support and against the protest, looked on.
M’Chigeeng councillor Gerald Ense and his wife were in their car on the Island side of the bridge when traffic was halted to allow the parade to cross.
“I want the other side of the story to get out too,” said Mr. Ense, whose First Nation community has signed onto a partnership agreement to build wind turbines. Mr. Ense cited the economic benefits that will accrue to his and other First Nation communities on Manitoulin through the development.
Another First Nation chief whose community will stand in the shadow of the giant turbines stood on the side of Highway 6 watching the march file past, but refusing to make a comment on the record. “I agree there has not been enough consultation in my community,” said the chief. “I can’t speak for my community until they have been properly consulted.”