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Owen Sound meeting a chance to size up party platforms, candidates

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With days left until the federal election ends, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound candidates fielded questions in a live-streamed event from downtown Owen Sound Tuesday night.

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For two hours they answered questions from nine topic areas selected by meeting organizers, plus some emailed in by the public. One about TC Energy’s Meaford pumped-storage plan was the only truly local question.

The meeting was organized by the Owen Sound & District Chamber of Commerce and the Meaford and Grey Highlands chambers of commerce.

Mostly, candidates swiftly shared party platform points to fit the seconds allotted for each answer. The People’s Party of Canada candidate, Anna-Marie Fosbrooke, and independent candidate Reima Kaikkonen, offered more ideological or philosophical replies.

It was a respectful question-and-answer session which never got personal when candidates took issue with something another candidate said. The format provided no opportunity for back-and-forth debate among candidates.

Topics from the organizers included the election timing, child-care support, housing, climate change, labour shortages, Indigenous issues, TC Energy’s pumped storage plan, small business assistance, fiscal responsibility and vaccine passports.

Moderator Trent Gow also read three of about 20 emailed questions — about firearms, capital gains tax credits, and help for low-income seniors. The candidates responded then had 90 seconds each to sum up their candidacies before the night ended.

The candidates were in a classroom in SuiteSpots office building in downtown Owen Sound for the event, seated at least two metres apart. The all-candidates meeting was broadcast on Rogers TV and live-streamed on Facebook Live and YouTube.

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TC Energy has said its pumped storage facility would be Ontario’s largest energy storage project, located near Meaford at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre. It would draw water into a reservoir atop the escarpment at night when energy costs less, then release it back into the bay to generate electricity when demand, and prices, are higher during the day.

Conservative Alex Ruff, who is seeking a second term as Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound’s MP, said his bottom line on the pumped storage plan is that “the pros don’t outweigh the cons.” He’s heard a lot of concerns about it, he said.

“And I’m still waiting for TC Energy to make a real clear business case on what problem they’ll solve and how this is going to help our area and all Ontario taxpayers.”

Kaikkonen, the independent candidate who describes himself as a Southgate farmer, business operator, evangelist and advocate, said he wasn’t too familiar with the storage project and wasn’t qualified to answer.

“But in principal, any project like this that is not clearly understood by community cannot be just railroaded and initiated,” he said and called for more community engagement.

The Green Party’s Michelle Lawrence, a registered practical nurse who works in long-term care and lives in Owen Sound, said “unfortunately there are a lot of cons,” a lot of which are environmental. She said the “return from the energy employed is estimated to be only 70 per cent,” she noted.

There are better, less environmentally harmful technology alternatives, she said. One big concern is potential ecosystem impacts but TC Energy has to meet environmental standards before the project is approved, she said.

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The PPC’s Fosbrooke, a realtor and former Southgate mayor, said she wasn’t too familiar with the project. “But I am intimately familiar with the public consultation process that I’ve seen and lived through and it’s sorely lacking transparency, true consultation and ultimately a public understanding of what is the impact.”

“Now I’m not sayin’ that the NIMBYs should win. What I’m saying is that the facts should dominate the conversation and the outcome.”

Christopher Neudorf, a high school teacher who lives in Owen Sound, said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should guide how the pumped-storage plan is viewed.

“We have a terrible habit in this country, of forcing potentially dangerous environmental construction on Indigenous territory. The Trans Mountain pipeline is a perfect example of this,” he said.

“If the Nawash and the Saugeen nations give their informed consent to proceed, then we can discuss the environmental pros and cons.” Without their consent, “I would not support it in that case.”

Liberal Anne Marie Watson, a farmer, active volunteer and hospital foundation executive director, said she agreed with her NDP colleague. She noted TC Energy hasn’t completed all assessments or received all required approvals yet.

“I’m not comfortable with what I’ve seen and I’ve read so far at this time and I think we need a little bit more information. I don’t think the project is as efficient as we would like to see right now. And I don’t know if the outcome of this is going to be worth the damage that it has the potential of doing to the environment.”

“There are many concerns with this project,” she said. “I’ve been talking to people in Meaford as I’ve been door-knocking. We don’t know, they don’t know yet the ramifications of it, what the environmental impact will be.”

More communication is needed, with the community and the Indigenous Peoples, she said.

An all-candidates meeting in Owen Sound, Ont. Tuesday night featured, left-to-right: Conservative Alex Ruff, independent Reima Kaikkonen, the NDP’s Christopher Neudorf, Liberal Anne Marie Watson, the Green Party’s Michelle Lawrence, and the PPC’s Anna-Marie Fosbrooke (unseen in this view). (Screen shot)
An all-candidates meeting in Owen Sound, Ont. Tuesday night featured, left-to-right: Conservative Alex Ruff, independent Reima Kaikkonen, the NDP’s Christopher Neudorf, Liberal Anne Marie Watson, the Green Party’s Michelle Lawrence, and the PPC’s Anna-Marie Fosbrooke (unseen in this view). (Screen shot)

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