SOUTH BRUCE – The answers are in, from an independent survey conducted in South Bruce recently to determine the term “willingness.”
The municipality hired an independent company to conduct the survey, part of the ongoing debate over whether or not the construction of a deep geological repository (DGR) by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is welcome in the area.
GDH Consulting Corporation surveyed rate-payers in the South Bruce jurisdiction and drafted a report released on Sept. 7.
Of the 229 residents polled, 136 confirmed a referendum as their preferred method to determine willingness for the DGR.
The survey identified six themes, based on recurring ideas or comments or those that shared similar sentiments. Each of the themes GHD identified as described below and not presented in any order of importance.
Overwhelming preference for public referendum
A public referendum emerged as causing the most discussion and was preferred by most participants. Participants said that a referendum is fair, allows everyone in the municipality a vote, is anonymous, and is a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
The report said, “some participants noted that a referendum is the only way to determine willingness and a strong dislike for any other means.”
This perspective was not shared by all participants, though, the report said.
“When participants were asked what processes they dislike, referendum was the second most common response, after vote of council. Concerns with public referendum included low voter turnout, voters may not be adequately informed, and that a referendum has the potential to cause deeper divisions in the community.”
Differing perspectives on timing of a referendum
Participants raised a diversity of comments related to when a referendum should take place, including:
• a referendum as part of the 2022 municipal election;
• have a referendum as soon as possible;
• a referendum should be held separately from the municipal election; and
• more time should be taken before a referendum is held or preferred community engagement activities (i.e., in-person, online, surveys, etc.) in combination with or in advance of a referendum.
Diversity of perspectives on other ways to determine willingness with common themes
The report identified several advantages and disadvantages to a referendum, but no individual process for determining willingness emerged as strongly preferred. Instead, several participants noted a preference for a combination of methods, including other plans with a referendum, as stated above.
When talking about the reasons, several common themes emerged across all processes:
• importance of the decision being representative of the community and the community having a voice;
• importance of being informed;
• impartiality and protecting against bias, manipulation; and
• concerns about mistrust and importance of building dialogue and not causing further division.
Clear, accessible and unbiased information from trusted sources
Several participants wanted a better understanding of the science and open, unbiased dialogue about the NWMO’s Project, including:
• the results of the borehole drilling and the engineering and scientific studies;
• sound evidence that this project can be built safely;
• the risks and the contingency plans associated with the project;
• access to the information in a way that is simple, clear, and easy to understand;
• information available in a variety of formats (print, online, mailed, etc.) so that participants have access in a way that works for them; and
• factual and unbiased information from an independent source.
Several participants noted the importance of broad representation:
• everyone in South Bruce should have the opportunity to have a say in determining willingness;
• importance of youth engagement and representation;
• understanding what the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s perspective on the project is and their process for determining willingness as well as the views of those outside South Bruce; and
• more engagement/participation from community members in the project.
Trust, mistrust, transparency and community divide
Several participants provided comments related to mistrust and community divide:
• the NWMO project has been difficult for the community, causing neighbours, friends, and family to be divided on the issue;
• concerns that the community members did not feel safe to provide their input and opinions without being on “one-side or the other”;
• lack of trust with the NWMO, municipal staff, council, and the Community Liaison Committee (CLC), and concerns about bias of CLC, council and municipal staff towards supporting the project; and
• Concerns that GHD is biased towards supporting the project.
Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste (POW-NNW) issued a press release after the announcement saying the organization is happy with the results.
“We are pleased to see the Willingness Study reflect our long-held position,” said Michelle Stein, chairperson of POW-NNW. “A binding referendum is the only legitimate way to determine willingness. It guarantees everyone a voice and respects both their choice and their privacy.”
Stein said that all residents should be allowed to have a voice in this momentous decision; an opportunity to state with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote is the only way to make the decision fair.
“Hosting the DGR will permanently change the character, reputation, and economy of our community. Every resident and business will have to live with the risks and any promised benefits for generations to come. Such a momentous decision cannot be made by a small group of people, however well-intentioned they may be,” said Stein.
Added Stein, “We urge the mayor and council of South Bruce to move quickly and include a binding referendum as part of the next municipal election in October 2022. Our community must be given the opportunity to answer a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question on whether we want to host the NWMO’s DGR.”
Steven Travale, communications and public relations officer for the Municipality of South Bruce, said in an email to Midwestern Newspapers, “as the report is currently presented as a draft, it has not been formally presented to council in an agenda yet, therefore council as a whole has not given any comments or direction on it.”
Travale added, “Once the comment period ends on Sept. 24, the draft report and comments will be presented to the CLC for information at the October meeting, following which the final report will be presented to council in early November as part of an agenda.”
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times