Generating people power
By Chad Ingram
It was how municipal government is supposed to work.
Last week, in what was arguably their first decision on a major, contentious issue, members of the current Minden Hills council unanimously voted against a proposed electricity generation station along the Gull River near the Minden Wild Water Preserve.
Since the project would have required the use of municipally owned shoreline road allowances, council’s decision effectively left the proposal from Orillia Power Generation, well, dead in the water.
The decision was a manifestation of true democracy; responsible government in action.
There were some councillors who personally favoured the project and leading up to last week’s vote, even for veteran observers, it was difficult to tell which way things were going to go.
A deal with Orillia Power would have, after all, meant a steady, reliable income stream for the township, one that would extend generations into the future.
Perhaps not the easiest thing for council members to pass up.
Leading up to last week’s vote, there was also a flurry of activity from residents vehemently opposed to the idea.
Not three days before council’s vote, a group called Save Minden White Water Rapids appeared on Facebook.
With concerns over decreased water flow and degradation of the environment around the rapids, the creators of the group implored residents to advocate against the project by contacting members of council.
(The creators of the group were eventually revealed to be residents Jim and Bernie Davis, by the way. The Davises also made a delegation asking councillors to vote against the project last week.)
Garnering nearly 700 “likes” in just more than 48 hours – no easy feat in a tiny community – the Facebook page was flooded with comments leading up to Thursday’s council meeting.
“This is one of the most beautiful places in Haliburton County,” wrote one commenter. “It needs to be preserved.”
“What a stupid idea to destroy such a valuable resource,” wrote another, and another, “For god’s sake . . . do people need to destroy everything beautiful on earth?”
And clearly many residents didn’t stop with Facebook comments.
Councillor Lisa Schell said that in her near-decade on council, she has never received so many phone calls and emails about one issue.
“In 2006, when I first ran for election, my promise was my voice at this table would be what constituents wanted, not what Lisa Schell wanted,” she said.
And there it is! The essence of what municipal leadership should mean, summed up simply and succinctly.
It could be argued about endlessly, given the potential economic benefits, environmental risks, overall usership of the facility, etc., if last week’s decision was the “best” one for the municipality.
But it was definitely the right one.
The community gave council a clear answer – no – and council relayed that answer to the applicant.
It demonstrated a respect for the wishes of constituents that was lacking during the previous council term.
Sometimes politicians need to remember why it is they’re sitting in their seats and that’s what happened around the Minden Hills council table last week.