THUNDER BAY - While they don't agree on everything, most candidates in Thunder Bay-Atikokan are in favour of strengthening treaty rights and oppose the proposed Big Thunder Wind Park.
That's what five of six candidates on the city's South side told a packed town hall meeting Monday night, hosted by the Nor'Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee, Fort William First Nation and the municipality of Neebing.
Unlike a traditional debate candidates were asked one at a time, while the others were out of the room, to answer four questions after a five minute introduction. After the first hour, the second half was opened up to questions from the public with one to two minute responses.
Fort William First Nation chief Georjann asked what steps parties would take to make sure treaty rights were not only honoured but strengthened. The community filed an injunction against several provincial ministries over a lack of consultation on the Big Thunder Wind Park.
Progressive Conservative candidate Harold Wilson said too often businesses have been left to consult with First Nations. But it's the government's responsibility. There's also been a history of doing things for, or worse, to First Nations.
"I want to do them with First Nations," he said.
NDP candidate Mary Kozorys said the process to date on the wind project has been disrespectful to Fort William First Nation. Most people don't understand the treaty process. It was set up historically to benefit everybody.
“I don’t see that happening at all,” she said.
Green candidate John Northey said his party would make sure First Nations were included as much as possible so that what was agreed to in the past isn't ignored in the future.
Liberal incumbent Bill Mauro said he's spoken with Premier Kathleen Wynne and the party unequivocally agrees that no decision on the project will be made until the community's issues are resolved, proof that Liberals are committed to the process.
"There will be no decision," he said.
Mauro said he thought Nor'Westers were a bad choice for a wind farm since day one. He set up meetings with the Premier and Morriseau and warned the municipality of Neebing that it was still considered in favour of the project. No one knew that the city of Thunder Bay had signed a 2007 lease agreement over the land.
"I’m publicly opposed. How much more can I do for you?” he asked a man after a question about his party's support of the Green Energy Act process.
When it comes to wind farms Kozorys said the province should look to Europe where residents can buy-in to the project not only financially but socially. The project shouldn't go ahead unless costs can be recovered and demand is there.
“The risks are too great,” she said.
For Wilson, whose family has lived in the area near the Nor'Westers since the 1930s, energy policy in the province has been focused on ideology rather than economics.
Northey said public support is needed.
"Not just from a local mayor or a local council but from the people who live there,” he said.
Libertarian candidate Joe Talarico was late due to other commitments so wasn't asked the four questions. During his five minute introduction he said science has allowed for new technology that could one day provide free energy. From geothermal to satellites collecting solar radiation the province could start investing in technology that focuses on abundant resources rather than focusing on scarcity.
“There are phenomenal things we could do,” he said.