Charges Oakville considers an “unacceptable hydro plant” an acceptable Oakville investment’; and begs province to “not put lives at risk” in letter to Premier and MP.
Posted Feb. 14, 3.15pm: Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy has again tried to drag the Town of Oakville into ongoing controversy surrounding a proposed hydro plant at the north Bala Falls. In a letter written on Township of Muskoka Lakes letterhead and distributed via Twitter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Murphy claimed Township had learned that Oakville may be the silent financial backer of the hydro project. She proceeds to write that “As we all know, a gas plant was politically unacceptable in Oakville but an unacceptable hydro plant in Muskoka is apparently supported as an Oakville investment.”
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton was quick to respond to Muskoka News Watch (MNW) inquiries with copies of his own correspondence to the Premier and MP Raitt on Monday, in which he states emphatically,
“With respect to the reference to the Town of Oakville in the 5th paragraph of this letter (Murphy’s letter), please be advised that the Town of Oakville is not “…the silent financial backer of this project.”
Meantime, MNW was polling Township Councillors on how aware they were of the letter and its allegations. Four Councillors – Ruth Nishikawa, Phil Harding, Donelda Kruckel and Allen Edwards — say they had been advised of the letter. Nishikawa and Kruckel said it had been discussed at council at a ‘past meeting’ and Kruckel said she had been surprised to learn that Oakville was involved. Harding responded he was “advised that the Mayor was writing a letter. The general contents were discussed; the specifics were not in question.” Harding adds the letter has his full support as a Councillor concerned about navigation on our waterways. He said he was not aware of the Twitter post. A question to the Township Chief Administrative Officer requesting clarification about which meeting date the discussion about the letter had occurred went unanswered.
Council split on purported Council discussion
It was a completely different story about whether Council knew about the letter from Councillors Don Furniss, Jean-Ann Baranik and Gault McTaggart. They say they never saw the letter and it was not discussed in Council (Brad Burgess and Ron Brent are on holidays and could not be reached for comment).
Furniss was especially surprised by the contents of the letter as the Oakville Mayor had stated previously and publicly that he does not want to be involved as an investor in a green energy project viewed as a hostile project. Furniss adds he’s “seen nothing or heard anything factual that shows that Oakville has become an investor in the Bala Falls small hydro project.”
(In October 2013 in a Toronto Star article, Mayor Burton spoke about how he offered to Murphy to consider investment in the project to work out a solution but she was not interested. He stated in the article that Oakville was not interested in pursuing the project after speaking with Murphy, who was also quoted in the article. Read Bala hydro project roils Muskoka and Oakville Mayors.)
“I can tell you that if you read the minutes of the meetings, I don’t see anything in there that shows that this letter was discussed,” continues Furniss. “My position and several other councillors’ positions with the Mayor is that if she is sending letters on Township stationary under the Mayor’s name to higher levels of government that those should be reviewed by Council before they are sent,” says Furniss. “She doesn’t agree with that but you can see what happens when she sends them: they are riddled with errors.”
Furniss continues: “This isn’t the first time she’s sent a letter and in the past she’s been called on it by other councillors. She feels she can send whatever she wants, whenever she wants, on Township letterhead. I have a real problem with that. Certainly I don’t have the ability to get township letter head to send letters out.”
Furthermore he says the Mayor’s letter contains information that is completely wrong. “The Mayor’s claim that the project’s final operating footprint is 16 times larger than the original hydro plant on the site is absolutely false. Where does she get this balderdash?” Furniss warns the Mayor’s ongoing letter campaigns will only make things worse with the province. “If the Mayor continues to ignore requests of Council to have opportunity to review and comment on letters of policy to higher levels of government, it could get to the point, in my opinion, where the Township has become a leper in the eyes of the province.”
Councillor McTaggart agrees with Furniss’ concerns and emailed this response:
“I do not approve of the letter for several reasons:
a- as it was sent on TML letterhead “office of the mayor”and signed as “mayor” it has the appearance of being the thoughts and position of the township and council. Without council agreement and resolution It should have been sent on Alice’s personal stationary and signed without the position of mayor.
b- the reference to Oakville is misleading. Oakville has indicated that they are not an investor, and even if they were, what right would TML have to prevent them from investing?
c- misleading errors! The proposed facility will not be 16 times the footprint of the previous power facility. I believe that the power generated will be about that multiple of the original.
This is not the first time that a letter has been sent to senior government members without discussion and review by council, in spite of requests of councillors to see and review letters that will be sent to senior government representatives.”
References (please click on images to view in larger size – and clear type): Below left is the Tweet issued by the Mayor which also contained her letter to the Premier and MP Raitt. The Tweet from the Mayor complains that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is now signing off on matters of federal jurisdiction. Below the Tweet is a copy of the letter in which she implies Oakville is backing the hydro project, followed by Oakville Mayor Rob Burton’s response to Muskoka News Watch and his letter to Premier Wynne as a result of MNW asking for his reaction to the Murphy letter.
Dear MNW Subscribers, Some of you have complained Murphy’s letter to the Premier and Lisa Raitt is too hard to read. You’re right. It is, as it is only a picture of what Murphy displayed online. If you want to explore the letter further — and Councillors’ responses to it, click here to read a new sidebar article published February 16 entitled Who is Zooming Who, a Critical Look
Email to Premier from Mayor Burton following MNW ask for reaction.
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Feature Picture: Murphy turning back on cameras while trying to halt test drilling at proposed Bala hydro project site, June 2013.