09/23/2011 01:54 EDT | Updated 11/23/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario's Ballot Box Question: Future of the Green Energy Act

image via GE

As Ontario's General Election approaches its midway point, politicos and voters alike are trying to determine what the ballot box question will be. At the start of the campaign, the Liberal's $10,000 tax credit for employers hiring new Canadians seemed to provide a flashpoint. While a recent poll showed a majority of Ontarians disagree with the Liberal proposal, the story did not have the traction needed to define the campaign.

The Green Energy Act is an issue that has been festering in rural Ontario communities for years and it appears has the potential to provide the clarity Ontarians need for a good ballot box issue. Opposition to Ontario's Green Energy Act has centred around three key issues: health and environmental impacts, process issues around decision making and the economics of the feed-in-tariff program.

Individuals living near industrial wind developments are reporting serious health effects that are preventing them from being able to stay in their homes. Industry buyouts of impacted residents and internal documents obtained by the Ministry of the Environment acknowledge there is a real problem in communities that host wind turbines, yet the Government of Ontario continues to refuse to implement a moratorium until a proper health study is completed to determine safe setbacks. Seventy-seven municipal councils have called for a moratorium until such a study is completed to no avail. Municipalities and citizens also complain that local planning rights have been taken away and have called for the restoration of local planning authority. As hydro rates have spiked in Ontario and further increases are planned, heightened awareness about the cost of the feed-in-tariff program and Samsung deal has further encouraged opposition to the Liberal's plan.

The Liberals are campaigning in defence of their Green Energy Act, while the opposition takes starkly different positions.

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives have promised to put in place a moratorium on industrial wind development until proper health studies are done, local planning control is restored and the feed-in-tariff program and Samsung deals are cancelled to save Ontarians from having to subsidize these projects going forward.

The NDP has taken a more nuanced approach with Party Leader Andrea Horwath saying she isn't surprised so many municipalities have called for a moratorium, but stopping short of saying whether she'd support such a move. Horwath has also said she supports more involvement of municipalities in decision-making, stopping short of restoring planning control, and has pledged to keep the feed-in-tariff for some projects.

In the last week local coverage of all-candidates debates around Ontario have demonstrated it doesn't matter if you live in Bruce-Grey Owen Sound, Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Chatham-Kent Essex, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Haldimand-Norfolk, Huron-Bruce, Simcoe-Grey, Peterborough, Prince Edward Hastings, Simcoe Grey or anywhere else in Ontario, a party's position on industrial wind energy and Ontario's Green Energy Act is proving to be a demarkation point for voters.

When Dalton McGuinty's government introduced the Green Energy Act into the legislature the premier said his government had found a 'sweet, sweet spot' with this legislation, but politically it is turning into a sore spot for Ontario Liberals across on the campaign trail.

A forum research poll in June 2011 showed that 56 per cent of Ontarians supported Tim Hudak's plans to cut the amount of wind and solar energy produced to reduce hydro bills, while a poll conducted by Liberal Campaign Manager Don Guy confirmed in August 2011 that just 40 per cent of Ontarians believe the Liberals are on the right track on electricity.

Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky and liberal candidate in Prince Edward Hastings was reportedly booed on occasion for her party's position on industrial wind turbine development this week, as was Minister of Agriculture Carol Mitchell, the liberal candidate in Huron-Bruce for her responses to questions on wind energy, hundreds of kilometres away from Dombrowsky's riding.

Liberal candidates in Bruce-Grey Owen Sound and Simcoe Grey have offered voters opinions that differ from their parties stance on the issue. Kevin Eccles of Bruce-Grey Owen Sound suggesting the Act 'needs to be tweaked' while Simcoe-Grey Liberal candidate Donna Kenwall told an all candidates debate she would call for an environmental assessment to be completed (something the Green Energy Act exempts wind developers from).

The Green Energy Act as a ballot box question for Ontario's General Election gives all voters a clear choice, and provides a democratic consultation that rural Ontarians have been missing since the bill became law in May 2009.