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The people have the power

Sending a message- Simcoe Council chambers Aug 2009

One of the best parts of being an Organizer is working with local groups that are battling to protect their communities from unwanted industrial development. We are currently engaged with more than a dozen such campaigns in our region. On consecutive Saturdays this month, I hit the road with my colleague Michael Butler for meetings with allied groups in Port Hope and Paris, Ontario. 

In both meetings, people expressed astonishment at finding themselves so deeply involved but after discovering that there is no effective government regulation or oversight left in Ontario, they realized that it is really up to them to protect their water.

In Cobourg, we joined our Northumberland Chapter to examine how to help Port Hope Residents 4 Managing Waste Responsibly (PHR4MWR) stop a proposal to build an enormous incinerator. The incinerator would import and burn hundreds of thousands of tonnes of garbage from all over the region and spew toxic, persistent pollutants on everyone downwind. When residents approached the various provincial ministries with their questions, they were told to ask the incinerator company for answers!  The more research they do, the more they are convinced that they must prevent this incinerator from being built.

A week later, Michael and I went to Paris to provide direct action and civil disobedience training to our Brant Chapter and the Concerned Citizens of Brant who are preparing to physically block the development of a gravel pit next to their municipal water supply. Ontario issued a permit to Dufferin Aggregates for a pit over forty years ago!  Despite everything learned since about groundwater protection, the provincial government is refusing to re-examine that ancient decision.

It has been almost five years now, since the watershed victory at Site 41. That 25 year long campaign to stop a garbage dump from being dug into the Alliston aquifer was where I realized that when communities stand up and take responsibility for protecting their water, they are unbeatable.  But, if they trust in the various approvals processes to come to a fair and prudent decision -or if they are cowed by accusations of self-interest and “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back Yard) -they will almost certainly lose.

Every community has the right to refuse destructive industrial development and we have an obligation to future generations to accept this as a responsibility. Our chapters and our allies in dozens of community groups and First Nations are going to extraordinary lengths to protect our water.  They deserve our support and our gratitude.