SOUTH BRUCE – Exactly one year before the election of a new municipal council, a campaign began to have a public vote in South Bruce to decide what ratepayers in the farming community want to do in regards to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) plan for burying nuclear waste in their backyards.
The campaign, called “Our Risk, Our Choice, We Deserve a Referendum,” is meant to include all community members.
“We recognize that some people in South Bruce support the NWMO’s plan. Many others are undecided,” Michelle Stein, chair of Protect Our Waterways, said in a news release. “We invite all of them to support this campaign for a binding referendum by signing the petition. A referendum will ensure their voices are heard and their vote respected.”
About 100 people gathered early Saturday afternoon at the Teeswater Town Hall, entertained by the Durham Sauntering Band and learning more about the newest petition to prompt the local government to listen to all of their ratepayers.
“365 days from now, South Bruce will hold it’s municipal election,” Stein said to the growing crowd of people. “We are all here today to make sure that on that day, Oct. 23, 2022, the voters of South Bruce will make not one, but two important decisions.”
Stein went on to say, “our concern is that the decision to host the NWMO’s deep geological repository (DGR) will be left to a small, select group of citizens. We cannot let that happen.”
The newest group of South Bruce citizens believe the only people qualified to make this decision are the people who live there, “those of us who will have to live with its risks and/or promised benefits.”
The group sent a message to the NWMO saying, “a referendum will determine if we are willing… they have one year from today to fully inform us.”
The NWMO’s South Bruce site director, Tareq Al-Zabet, released a statement following the rally, stating, “I write this statement in light of the call for a referendum by Protect Our Waterways in South Bruce. We at the NWMO want to reaffirm our goal of selecting a site for Canada’s used nuclear fuel by the end of 2023 through a community-driven process.
“The project will only go ahead in a location that is safe for people and the environment and has informed and willing hosts. That’s why open and transparent dialogue with the public, and listening to different viewpoints, have always been fundamental to the NWMO approach and will continue to be integral to every step moving forward.”
Although the local government, members of the Community Liaison Committee (CLC), and groups with alternate points of view from POW – NNW were sent invitations to join the ratepayers of the municipality, there were no representatives present at the rally.
MPP Lisa Thompson responded to the invitation, telling the new group that she informed Mayor Bob Buckle that she would support a referendum, Stein announced during the rally.
The “Willing to Listen” group sent out a press release on Oct. 25 following the rally that said, “A vocal group of opponents are beginning to demand a referendum that could prematurely end the current process of research and scientific exploration.
“If the DGR project is proven safe, and proceeds, the result will be hundreds of high-paying, high-tech jobs in our community, with significant downstream benefit for the local economy. Ending the process prematurely could deny South Bruce residents of this unprecedented opportunity.
“The longer this project goes on, the more financial benefit there will be for our area.”
In a social media response to the timing of the referendum, Michelle Stein said, “the referendum wouldn’t happen for a year which allows the NWMO to complete their studies and share the results. The NWMO’s plan is to select a site in 2023 so it only seems fair that the community is given a voice at the end of 2022 before a site is selected. I think the bigger question is why are some people afraid to promise the residents a voice in this forever decision?”
On Oct. 20, POW stated they will be asking for a delegation at a future South Bruce council meeting, with the goal of seeing a motion introduced by council to host a referendum on the DGR proposal as part of the 2022 municipal election.
“The municipal election process is well-run, and the willingness question can easily be added to the ballot,” said Stein. “The municipality-funded Willingness Study confirmed that a binding referendum was the overwhelming choice of community members that participated. NWMO documents confirm that once a final agreement with the host municipality is reached, that agreement cannot be undone.”
To keep to the NWMO’s timelines, the host community decision must be made by 2023.
Members of Our Risk, Our Choice will be canvassing door-to-door through to the end of November to ask community members to sign the new petition that asks if people favour holding a referendum.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times