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Protesters demand Ontario cancel plans for natural gas plant

Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn addresses a rally in front of the Ontario Legislature opposing plans to build a gas-fired power station 350 metres from homes in Oakville.

dave chan The Globe and Mail

It was a tough-talking Premier Dalton McGuinty who warned last year that he wouldn't tolerate the "not-in-my-backyard" attitude of opponents to green-energy projects, his flagship job-creation initiative.

But NIMBYism was on full display yesterday on the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature, where about 500 people demanded that the government scrap plans to build a power plant in the affluent enclave of Oakville, west of Toronto.

The 900-megawatt, gas-fired power station, to be built next to the town's Ford car plant and a mere 350 metres from the closest homes, is to provide a cleaner source of electricity as the province phases out its coal-fired plants.

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But the residents object to having a plant so close to schools and homes, arguing that it will pose health and safety risks in an area where a provincial report has deemed the air quality to be poorer than average.

Mr. McGuinty acknowledged that his government has to ensure that it is respecting the health and safety concerns of communities. "I think parents have concerns, the community has concerns and our responsibility is to speak to those and to make sure we allay those fears," he told reporters.

The rally, one of the largest in recent memory at Queen's Park, was organized by a group calling itself Citizens for Clean Air. The group has the support of one of Mr. McGuinty's own backbenchers, as well as that of municipal leaders from Oakville and neighbouring communities.

Kevin Flynn, Liberal MPP for the riding of Oakville, joined the protest on the front lawn, where he promised to introduce a private member's bill next week asking that gas-fired plants in Ontario be located farther from communities. "I can't stand before my community and say anything good about this plant at all," Mr. Flynn said in an interview. "It's too close and too dangerous."

He said he is not worried about jeopardizing his relations with the Premier. In fact, he said, he has discussed the project with Mr. McGuinty and said his boss is prepared to take a second look at it.

Mr. Flynn said last month's tragedy at a Connecticut power plant, where an explosion felt as far as 30 kilometres away left five people dead and injured another two dozen, highlighted the need to establish set distances from homes and schools.

But the community began fighting the plant long before then. Chris Breen, a spokesman at TransCanada Corp., the company that is to build and operate the plant, said replacing coal with cleaner natural gas is a positive step.

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He also said TransCanada has operated plants for 20 years with no safety incidents. The explosion in Connecticut happened when a contractor used high-pressure natural gas to clean a pipeline. "That is just something we don't do," he said. "It's unsafe."

Opposition politicians also oppose the plant.

"Gas plants should only be a last resort and should be built away from densely populated areas," said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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