Premier dogged by protestors and questions about wind turbines and Sarnia Jail

She was in Sarnia to dig into some dirt, but instead Premier Kathleen Wynne stepped into a hornet’s nest of questions about Sarnia’s jail closing, the Liberal’s wind energy policies and the cost of power to big business.

Wynne, who is also Ontario’s agriculture minister, came to Sarnia May 31 to be part of Goodwill Industries launch of their community garden and also to tour the expansion (funded by the province) of Vision Nursing Home. The visit was meant to highlight local food security and the need to provide for seniors in the province but Wynne was greeted by protestors who had other issues on their mind.

Anti-wind turbine activists from Lambton and Middlesex Counties came out in full force. About 20 members of the local jail guard’s union also stood on the sidewalk with signs calling for the premier to intervene in the closing of the Sarnia Jail.

Middlesex Lambton Wind Concern’s activist shouted down the premier several times and were asked by Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley allow the community garden event to continue. “One of our values is respect and I ask that you show respect,” he said to the protestors who were using a megaphone to get their point across. At one point a man ventured over to the wind protestors to reiterate the request to allow the speakers to be heard.

But they complied but once the event was done and the premier started greeting people, the chants began again, including “Kathleen go home.”

A press aide said the premier would meet with protestors after the event but instead watched as they slowed her vehicle as it left.

Marcelle Brooks of Middlesex Lambton Wind Concern wasn’t disappointed she didn’t have a chance to talk to Wynne; “She heard what we had to say,” says Brooks.

Wind protestors say the changes the government recently made to the Feed In Tariff program are not enough; that hundreds of turbines now on the drawing board will go ahead, even with the changes.

Later at a news conference, Wynne told reporters the changes should allow more local input. “I can’t comment on which projects will go forward…but we need a better process up front,” says Wynne. “We need these businesses to work more closely with municipalities.”

Sarnia’s jail guards weren’t as vocal but still wanted a chance to speak to the premier. Dave Esser, the head of the local union, had a picture of the Sarnia Jail he wanted to give to Wynne. “They keep saying in the legislature that the jail is 150 years old and people in Sarnia know that’s not true,” he says, noting the picture would prove that.

Wynne later seemed to leave little room for any hope the jail would not close saying sometimes the cost of upgrading jails outweighs the cost of building new jails. “We are modernizing,” Wynne told reporters. When she was reminded the jail was built in the 60s, Wynne said simply “We’re looking at the whole province.”

Pressed further by reporters who explained how the local Save the Jail Committee had met with the Corrections Minister and presented a report on the cost of closing the jail and having prisoners housed in Sarnia but had not had their questions addressed, Wynne replied; “we will make sure that if there has been that kind of engagement we will get those answers.” The premier wouldn’t say when that might happen.

It’s likely one of the questions Sarnia’s mayor will raise. Mike Bradley expressed disappointment the premier did not have time to meet with members of the community and address the jail closure and the concerns of industry about high power rates. Nova Chemicals is considering a $1.5 billion expansion but says power rates are high and could mean the project would go to another Nova facility. Wynne told reporters the province is in discussion with businesses about their concerns, but wasn’t aware of any discussions with Nova.

Bradley has asked for, and says he received the agreement from, Wynne that a meeting will be arranged for the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership members to meet with her to discuss the community concerns.

– Heather Wright

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