Things have lately become uncommonly heated on the pages of our local electronic newspaper The Millstone News. This technologically advanced publication with its capacity to provide almost instant reporting and communication between its contributors and readers is now the established forum for daily vitriolic exchanges between our Mayor and those opposed to a proposed renovation of an existing hydro-electric plant on the Mississippi River in the centre of Town. I have to say I admire the Mayor for the way he is handling the heat he is taking. He is unwaveringly firm in his opinion that the project is well conceived and based upon sound planning, economic, heritage, engineering and environmental principles. In fairness he has the support of an extensive body of bureaucratic mandarins whose education has presumably fitted them for analysis of this very type. By contrast those in opposition to the project have regularly characterized the reports of the governmental bodies as mere pandering to the social elite and the interest of business generally. The Mayor is naturally being painted with the same brush of favouritism and commercialism (all accordingly to the opponents at the expense of the “public interest” which the Mayor in turn has categorized as a “special interest group”).
There is seemingly only one person active in the daily debate whose infectious voice is comparatively down the middle. That person has ostensibly come out in favour of the Mayor but only because that person is asking the opponents to do more than merely object to the project and to put forward factual reasons for their objection. Coincidentally I requested two people who are actively involved in the denouncement of the project to share with me their reasons. The first person began by inviting me to review the historical reports contained in The Millstone News to collate the many reasons for objection, adding that there were so many people who had objected as evidenced by an on-line survey and that there were examples of other government sponsored projects being quashed by organized public activity. The second person, before turning the question onto me and asking what I thought, reluctantly stated that she was against the project though she hadn’t fully reviewed the reasons why. When I pressed her for a reason, she said that she was afraid of what would become of the River.
Neither of these correspondents did much to satisfy either my curiosity about the merits of the project or my comfort level with the mechanism of objection. I am also disturbed that much of the argument by the opponents is founded strictly upon the assertion of partisanship or inactivity by the Mayor and his Council, allegations which invariably fall short of conjunction with misguided or inaccurate decisions by the local politicians. There is certainly no concession whatever by the opponents that the evolution of inquiry into the project has brought to the forefront matters which reasonably were not previously considered by Council especially as the adjudication upon the merits of the project was by legislation reserved to the provincial government. The present ability of the opponents to see with purported 20-20 vision is not entirely deserved in my opinion. Nonetheless the Councillors are being roundly abused for apparent lack of foresight. It is no small coincidence the ad hominem nature of the debate is unquestionably fuelled by a brewing battle for the position of Mayor, the line of decision being drawn between him who supports the project and him who does not. At this point it is safe to assume that all other issues germane to the management of the Town will take a back seat to this particular issue and that the fortunes of each of the prospective Councillors and Mayor in the upcoming municipal election will likely turn upon this issue alone.
While I can imagine that many of the opponents of the project would be flabbergasted to hear me say so, there is undeniably a sense emerging from this on-going debate that the majority of the opponents are new arrivals to the Town or even from “away” and that the silent majority (who are afraid to be tarred and feathered by these vocal opponents) are the native members of the community (which may also include traditionalists who haven’t a penchant for on-line surveys). It doesn’t hinder the perpetuation of this demographic division that activist Maude Barlow and folk singer Bruce Cockburn have been enlisted as supporters of the opponents. Inevitably when such lines are drawn the division further deteriorates into a schism between the savvy imports and the hay-seed locals which of course does nothing but add to the perceived animosity between the camps.
Politics being the blood-sport that it is, it is guaranteed that the substantive facts of this project will be lost in the unfolding of the more entertaining tangle between the parties. Although there has been brief mention of the principal of the developer, he has until very recently perhaps wisely chosen to remove himself from the fray from the outset and has only lately succumbed to the taunts of the opponents to get into the ring. Aside from the developer’s insipid response to the objections, it is my guess that the developer, relying upon the persuasive reports of the government and his legal entitlement to do so (perhaps along with the threat of Mandamus to force the hand of the government to act as it should in accordance with settled law) will get what he wants in the end. There may however be delay precipitated by the recent decision of Council to freeze development of any nature in this area (“Heritage District“) for a year but this too may be the subject of legal attack on the theory that one cannot do indirectly what one cannot do directly. My only caveat to this conjecture of outcome is that the laws of equity may yet be invoked to trounce the so-called letter of the law in favour of a more egalitarian or democratic result, a thesis in which the newly elected provincial government may decide it has a particular interest (or self-interest). Whatever the result, things are heating up!