Burning Durham Region

So, I went to a Durham Regional Council meeting the other day (Nov. 23rd). There were a # of “delegations” from members of the public who are outraged by:

1. Our politicians having voted to go ahead with a $272 million municipal waste incinerator. Outstanding issues? Pollution. Lousy contract. Contractor that seems to get in hot water/deep doo-doo everywhere it operates. Technical issues. Health issues. Cost issues. Legal issues. Zoning issues. Need I go on?? Lots of info about this whole business here:

2. The $75,000 “groundbreaking” party back on August 17th . It was a “high end” affair, you understand. Our prime minister was even invited! (He didn’t come of course; why would he?? He’s got way better things to do; any 3-year old can see that!!)

There’s been tons of press on this – & those of us appalled by our politicians are pleased the Toronto Star & the Orono Times have been pretty hard-hitting on it (the latter paper is not on the Web, so I can’t provide links to its articles. Try them on Facebook though!)

I’m pretty newly back to Durham Region after 8 years away & not as familiar with all the personalities & political shenanigans as I ought to be. Just going to make some short observations under a couple of different headings.

THIS is Democracy?

  • Adversarial atmosphere. Many of our politicians seem to view the public as unwanted intruders. Maybe even more or less as unruly peasants. (We elected them to serve us! We provide the money that pays them. Via our tax dollars. Sheesh!!)
  • A regional chair un-elected by the voters of Durham Region
  • Citizen “delegations” entitled to 10-minute presentations. Doesn’t matter how complex the issue – 10 minutes, chop chop!!
  • Hard-hitting delegations by citizen activists that are chockfull of relevant facts & allegations are followed by … no questions??
  • I’ve seen it in the nuclear biz. Seems always the “proponent” (i.e., the industry that wants to build some fancy nuclear facility, or, in this case, incinerator) gets plenty of time with the politicians, the bureaucrats, Works Dept. types. Taxpaying citizens? Shoo. Just go away, pullese…

This is what we call democracy???

Alerts!

  • Boredom Alert: when the individual members of regional council make announcements about events in their communities; one can easily imagine all the wonderful photo ops our pols are so thrilled to star in. Snore…
  • Business As Usual: One suspects local politicians (like politicians everywhere) may be a little too prone to serving industry before citizens, doing a certain amount of feeding at the trough, being mouthpieces for aforementioned industries & spending taxpayers’ money as though it were their own while simultaneously acting as though “the public” that elected them is dirty, unwashed, ignorant & should just stay out of the way & let them do their business. Business as usual. What can I say?? (This shouldn’t be “news” to us, either. It’s been going on at all levels of government forever…)
  • Irony Alert: raising $$ for cancer (for cancer?? Hmm. Cancer research, I guess) was mentioned. I suspect none of the pols “get” that the very thing we incineration foes are engaged in is trying our damndest to prevent cancer. Duh, eh??
  • It Ain’t Rocket Science! I’m “getting” that not every elected politician is, um…exactly what you might call “the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Many seem to be content to let the hired guns (high-priced consultants of various stripes) rassle with the complex issues – & do what the regional chair tells them to. Only thing is, burning garbage is not wildly complex. It isn’t rocket science – not at all. A single evening spent doing some study & report-reading would make this quite abundantly clear. It’s lovely when human beings “get” that we are “all in this together.” Solidarity is very cool. But not when it’s in the interests of polluting the planet & failing to take responsibility for one’s actions & decisions.
  • Who Knew?? All in attendance at regional council meetings are expected to stand when the boss man (the regional chair), enters the room. Egad! This so-called “leader” is not even elected by the voters of Durham Region, & I’m supposed to stand for him??? It’s bad enough he wears a ridiculous “chain of office” & sits on a chair elevated above his colleagues & is rude to members of the public (sometimes councillors, too); we’re expected to stand for this guy???

Awards

  • Carpet-sweeping: those who voted against the McConnell/Neal motion to fully investigate the way this incinerator party came to pass (a party for which there was never any actual budget or financial planning. Apart, that is, apparently, from staff being directed to make it “the best of the best”).
  • Kissing the Chair’s Butt. It appears there are quite a # of Durham Region pols whose chief game, regionally speaking, is keeping their mouths close to… well, we all know the expression about kissing the boss’s a-s… Not naming any names here! Citizens can figure this out for themselves.
  • Let Them Eat Cake! I guess we’ll award this to the woman who, along with her husband, was invited to the $75,000 groundbreaking party (because they are strong supporters of the incinerator project) & who spoke in a very superior tone about those who oppose the incinerator & who were decidedly NOT invited to the groundbreaking party (she actually said she is “excited” about how good this trash burner will be for the local economy. Egad). One could so easily see this woman saying “Off with their heads!” & her little rebuke to a fellow citizen present set us all back on our heels. (I suspect her attitude & comments were a bit over the top even for the Council members!)
  • Old-Style Politics award – 4-way tie! Councillors Drumm, Ballinger, O’Connor & Pidwerbecki all vie for this one. They’re all equally entitled to the Style vs. Substance award as well (see below).
  • Solidarity award – to the 2 regional councillors (Jennifer O’Connell; Pickering & John Neal; Oshawa) who put forward a motion to have the groundbreaking party financial situation properly investigated (the motion was defeated by the Let’s Sweep it Under the Carpet contingent) & also to Nancy Diamond (Oshawa) for her magnanimous question to one of the members of the public who was doing a delegation, to ensure that the high school students present were aware of his educational background (Ph.D. in Physics). This woman has got some serious class, I gotta say…
  • Style over Substance award to Whitby Councillor Joe Drumm, who commented that the groundbreaking party was done “in style,” & who “takes umbrage” at criticisms levelled against staff. (He seemed to be saying it doesn’t matter to him how much $$$ the party cost, as long as it “looked good,” & also that one must never criticize staff…even when they screw up really badly, one assumes. Yikes.)
  • You REALLY JUST DON’T GET IT, DO YOU?? Tough call on this. For now, we’ll give it to Oshawa councillor Nester Pidwerbecki, who told the crowd present it makes him “emotional” when the “total transparency” of the Council is questioned. (?????) He is also very upset by citizens who oppose the incinerator who somehow (in his view) caused a delay that cost the Region $1 million a month (sorry; I was not living here when this happened; can’t comment on it intelligently). What is it he doesn’t get? Incinerator opponents don’t want the damn incinerator!! No incinerator? No $1 million per month extra costs. No $75,000 groundbreaking party. What part of “We don’t want this damn incinerator thank you very much” is it that you don’t get, Mr. Pidwerbecki??? We too can get a little emotional when we think about the pollutants it will spew (which are being underestimated & will be under-reported & under-monitored & swept under the carpet by the “Health Unit” & the “Ministry of the Environment,” & will be breathed in by our children, grandchildren, ourselves, the food we grow & eat, Lake Ontario, etc. etc. Geez. What is it about this that is so darn hard for you folks to grasp?????)

As a placard I saw earlier this Fall in Ottawa (while attending a tar sands protest on Parliament Hill) said,

Silly adults. The future’s for kids!

Janet

p.s. Oshawa Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki commented during the Council meeting that he found himself becoming emotional when discussing the $75,000 groundbreaking party & accusations of wrong-doing. It made me recall 2 trash-related occasions when I became very emotional. The first was when I toured the Brock West Landfill site over 10 years ago & saw the acre after acre after acre monument to human waste. Productive farmland morphed into a wasteland of garbage. I was also powerfully reminded of the time I toured an incinerator in Detroit, Michigan, while down in Windsor (Ontario) for a Recycling Council of Ontario conference. Both these occasions made me cry (& truth to tell, I don’t cry all that readily). To me, sheer over-the-top waste & human-caused pollution can really get me going.

p.p.s. I will do a blog posting soon listing the many habits I practice routinely in order to minimize my own personal contribution to the garbage problem. I’ve been hard at this for 22 years now, so most of it is long since 2nd nature to me. I used to coordinate local Waste Reduction Weeks, give ‘supermarket tours’ pointing out how we can change our shopping habits to minimize waste, write newspaper columns about it, create & share brochures & videos, & so on & so on. Perhaps if we were all really intent on creating a Zero Waste society, we’d soon stop talking about building $300 million monuments to waste, pollution & cancer-creation.

p.p.p.s. My other incineration-related posts are found here under a new heading.

Quote of the day: “A clear conscience is more valuable than wealth.” – Filipino proverb

Runner-up Quotes: “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” – Mark Twain

“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees.” – Mohandas Gandhi (lots of good quotations about civil disobedience here)

“The hard part about change, is, well…you have to actually change.” – Jon Cooksey, Director of ‘How to Boil a Frog’