Friday, December 28, 2012 11:33:14 EST AM
It is critically important that Saugeen Shores establish a fair open and democratic process in order to make an informed decision about whether it is willing or unwilling to host a Deep Geological Repository.
I am one of the many people who are strongly opposed to the location of a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in Saugeen Shores or anywhere else near the Great Lakes. I remain un-convinced that a DGR anywhere is the best solution to the growing problem of safely storing Canada’s nuclear waste but even if a DGR is the answer, it would be a terrible mistake to locate such a massive underground nuclear waste storage structure in the vicinity of the world’s largest supply of fresh water.
So, I am happy to be part of the growing movement opposed to the selection of Saugeen Shores as the DGR site.
However, the purpose of my letter today is not to argue about the pros and cons of theDGR. Rather, I want to make a plea for conducting the study and debate of this issue, likely the most important ever to face our community, in a fair, open and democratic manner that reflects the values and traditions of our community. If we fail to do so, Saugeen Shores is likely to come out of the DGR process, whatever the final decision, as an uninformed and bitterly divided community, and to suffer for it in the long run.
When I came to Southampton last summer, I felt a bit like I had just entered a war zone: on one side were the pro-DGR forces and on the other side were the many, myself included, who opposed DGR. The two sides fired letters at each other through the pages of the local paper but otherwise never came together as friends and neighbours to study and debate the most important issue ever to face the people of Saugeen Shores. When those opposed to the DGR organized a public meeting, nobody from the other side participated or spoke up. Only one member of council even bothered to attend. Throughout the summer, the mayor and councillors behaved as if they were under orders to say nothing other than repeat over and over again that they were just interested in learning more.
When people put up lawn signs opposing the DGR, some of the signs disappeared in the night, as if we lived in a different kind of country. I’m not sure what is going on here but clearly it is not good for democracy or the health of the community.
Like it or not, Saugeen Shores has now entered step 3 of the DGR site selection process, making it critically important to establish a fair, open and democratic process for studying and deciding the DGR issue. I see the following as three basic requirements: confidence building measures, to develop trust, learning and civility in handling this highly complex and contentious issue on which people of good will disagree.
1. Saugeen Shores should establish its own local learning and decision-making process independent of NWMO. Whether one trusts the NWMO or regards it with suspicion, I think we can all agree it is not a neutral party to the debate. It is an organization created by and representing the nuclear operators and therefore has a large stake in finding a willing community to serve as a DGR site. It follows that NWMO information and activities largely favor the pro-DGR position when what is now needed in Saugeen Shores (and the other communities being considered as the DGR site) is a fair, balanced and thorough examination of all sides of the issue.
Accordingly, Saugeen Shores should establish its own strong local learning and decision making process independent of NWMO. The process should draw upon a wide range of resources, including but not limited to NWMO, to ensure that all sides of the issue are fairly and carefully considered.
2. Council should adopt a resolution committing the municipality to respect recognized democratic standards and procedures in the DGR discussion and decision making. The 2005 Kincardine Poll regarding the DGR for low and intermediate waste fell far short of recognized democratic standards and procedures in its design and execution. It left the clear impression that the main purpose of the poll was not to determine the wishes of the community but rather to ratify the DGR hosting agreement already signed by Kincardine Municipality and OPG several months earlier. It did nothing to reassure us that democratic means will be used to determine whether Saugeen Shores is a willing or unwilling community.
To ensure that nothing like the Kincardine poll will happen here, Saugeen Shores council should adopt a resolution committing the municipality to respect recognized democratic standards and procedures in determining the wishes of the community.
At a minimum, such a resolution would include the following commitments: (i) all residents, both year round and seasonal, will be treated in a fair and equitable manner when it comes to participation in the study and decision making around the DGR; (ii) council will operate in a transparent and open fashion when it comes to the DGR and respond positively and promptly to citizens’ requests for information, including discussions with NWMO; (iii) council will not agree to or put in place any kind of “gag order” that would restrict the ability of councillors to express their views on the DGR or participate in community study and debate of the issues; (iv) a secret ballot in a referendum will be the means to determine whether the people of Saugeen Shores support or oppose a DGR in the municipality. A secret ballot will ensure that all residents feel comfortable in exercising their democratic preferences on this important question.
3. All of us should act as engaged, responsible and civil democratic citizens. It is important that the mayor and council show leadership and set a good example in establishing a fair open and democratic the DGR process. Of equal importance, all of us should take seriously our responsibilities as democratic citizens. That means taking the time and trouble to inform ourselves on all sides of the issue. It means sitting down with our friends and neighbours to discuss the DGR, regardless of where we stand on the issue, and it means participating in public information meetings whether they are organized by “our side” or “the other side.”
In discussing the issue of the DGR so far, Saugeen Shores has behaved more like two warring camps than a community of citizens trying to arrive at the best decision on a hugely important issue. As someone born and raised in Bruce County who has come to Southampton for the past 70 years, I remain hopeful that our community will rise to the challenge of learning together and making well informed decisions despite the deep divisions over the DGR.
The stakes are very high. If we fail we will end up with an uninformed and bitterly divided community.