Canada’s new Liberal majority government and its new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, have a lot of work to do to live up to their promise of “real change.” Canadians want it, and I don’t doubt they’re going to get it.
But it will take time – possibly even the better part of the next four years – to undo much of what the Conservative government did under Stephen Harper’s leadership. To start with, the change in style and approach to governing will be like night and day. They are two very different personalities.
When he was first elected to be Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister in 2006 with a minority government Harper promised a new era of openness and accountability, but didn’t deliver, maybe because it just wasn’t in him to be that way. Not yet, anyway.
“A man’s character is his fate,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Many’s the time I’ve worried about the truth of those words myself. But it’s something we all have to take time to think about if we’re going to grow and become the person we were meant to be.
Trudeau, on the other hand exudes openness. He seems to thrive on engaging with people. I don’t doubt that will be part of his style in government.
So, it’s going to take time, not just because there’s so much to do, but also to allow for the kind of public discussion and ongoing engagement that should be part of a healthy democratic process. That’s what we’ve been missing.
The new Liberal government will have to set action priorities. Specific election promises, like a tax cut for the so-called “middle class” are surely high on the priority list. Just who exactly is that?
On the environmental front, Trudeau has promised Canada will take more action on climate-change, surely one of the most urgent challenges facing the world. So the upcoming climate-change conference in Paris, France is obviously a high priority.
New Liberal cabinet ministers will need time to get up to speed on their various files. Some outstanding matters may stand out as needing further review, possibly more public consultation, before going forward.
One such outstanding piece of business affecting this area in a big way is the final decision about whether or not to approve Ontario Power Generation’s proposed Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for the storage of low and intermediate-level radioactive nuclear waste.
OPG has been planning the development of a deep, underground storage facility at its Western Waste Management Facility at the Bruce Nuclear site for 14 years. Low-radioactive materials include such things as mops and other cleaning materials, as well as protective clothing that was worn by nuclear workers. Intermediate waste includes used reactor components. The waste would come from the Bruce site, as well as OPG’s other nuclear sites at Darlington and Pickering. Ontario gets about 60 percent of its electrical power from nuclear generation.
The waste would be buried in caverns 685 meters deep in the 450 million-year-old limestone bedrock under the Bruce site.
The OPG plan is separate from the DGR proposed by the federally-appointed Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) for the long-term storage of Canada’s growing stockpile of highly-radioactive used nuclear fuel. The NWMO is still in the process of looking for a suitable host-community and site for the high-level DGR, including potential locations in southern Bruce County.
Meanwhile, the NWMO is working closely with OPG to help it get its DGR approved by federal regulators.
Beginning in 2014 and ending earlier this year, a federally-appointed Joint Review Panel held a lengthy series of public hearings into the OPG proposal. In May the three-person panel decided it posed no significant threat to public health and the environment and recommended it be approved by now-former federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. But the plan to bury nuclear waste near the shore of Lake Huron remained controversial on both sides of the Great Lakes.
Aglukkaq decided in early June it needed an additional three-month public comment period. She set Dec. 2 as the date for the final decision, leading to the issuing of a licence for construction, or not. Aglukkaq, a Conservative, lost her seat in the Oct. 19 election.
One local anti-DGR activist, John Mann of Saugeen Shores was quick to send an email letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) the day after the election to say Aglukkaq’s delay in making a final decision has left the new Liberal Environment Minister – whoever that may be – in an “impossible” position.
“It is impossible for the new minister to properly and meaningfully review this extensive record and render a decision by the December 2, 2015 deadline,” Mann said.
Obviously, that “deadline” will have to change.
It’s also pretty obvious someone thought it would be a good idea to put off the final approval of the DGR to avoid creating a possibly troublesome election issue for the Harper government.
Originally published in The Sun Times in October, 2015.