POLITICS

Opponents of nuke dump site decry report on 'unlawful' secret meetings

09/18/2014 03:45 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:59 EDT
TORONTO - Groups fighting a proposed nuclear waste storage site on the shores of Lake Huron called on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday to establish penalties for municipalities who break the law by holding secret meetings.

In addition, the groups — Save our Saugeen Shores and the Southampton Residents Association — called on Ontario's ombudsman to review the circumstances that led to a report critical of Bruce County council for meeting nuclear waste representatives without telling anyone or documenting the discussions.

"This was a major error of provincewide importance in light of the evidence of an 8.5-year egregious disregard of the law and the public's right to open and transparent government," Rod McLeod, the group's lawyer, said in a statement.

"The current end result trivializes important provincial legislation designed to preserve transparency in municipal government."

Last month, an outside investigation concluded the municipal politicians in the region that is home to one of the world's largest nuclear power plants violated provincial law.

However, the report concluded the officials did not violate the Municipal Act deliberately, something the groups said was nonsense.

"The evidence was overwhelming that the mayors knew exactly what they were doing and that it was unlawful," their statement said.

Overall, McLeod said, the investigation failed to treat the violations with the seriousness deserved and the lack of sanctions for a breach in the Municipal Act is not good enough.

Wynne had no comment but a spokesman for the Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin suggested changing the current legislation was not in the cards because municipalities already have the power to establish penalties for failing to follow the rules.

"Ultimately, all elected officials have a responsibility to follow provincial legislation and are accountable to the people who elected them," Mark Cripps said in an email.

Ombudsman Andre Marin said there was nothing he could do under current legislation but called the report "flawed."

Ontario Power Generation is proposing to build a massive underground nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont., a plan that has drawn opposition from environmentalists, aboriginal groups and legislators in Michigan.

At issue were numerous meetings of the "community consultation" advisory group, comprising the mayors who sit on county council and representatives of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and Ontario Power Generation, that began in 2005.

The citizen groups alleged the discussions were kept secret because the politicians feared damaging their electoral fortunes and pointed to informal notes from one meeting in February 2010 that showed a mayor fretting about "a negative backlash at the polls."

The probe by Amberley Gavel — a company based in London, Ont., that helps municipalities with closed-meeting procedure investigations — concluded the public never knew about any of the meetings.

It also found the discussions had a marked influence on the mayors' decisions regarding the radioactive waste project despite their contention the meetings were simply information sessions at which they passed no motions.

The citizen groups said the province should be reviewing the conduct of Ontario Power Generation.

They also said the county response — to ask staff to provide annual reminders about the law requiring open meetings — was "appallingly weak."

Council members have "thus far show defiance with no hint of remorse," the statement said.