Now is not the time for a referendum

Original post via Lucknow Sentinel.

To the Editor:

Many of us in South Bruce have now entertained door-to-door campaigners urging us to sign a petition to South Bruce Council. 

The petition asks council to hold a referendum on the Deep Geological Repository, a full year ahead of the time our community is due to make a decision, according to the established project plan.  I know there are a number of well-meaning residents engaged in this activity, and they all have their reasons for participating.  However, I’d like to clarify a few things.

1. Some of the campaigners have been spreading the message that the 2022 election is the “only chance we have” to have a referendum and that there would not be another opportunity until 2026. Thankfully, one of our residents called the Mayor about this, and it was clarified at this week’s Council meeting. Municipal councils can call a referendum at any time except between March and election day of an election year. That leaves lots of time to have a referendum in 2023 or later.

2. A referendum is not the only legitimate (fair and democratic) way to make a decision on our willingness to host the DGR. We live in a representative democracy, and our system of government gives us a number of mechanisms for making public decisions. Actually, a referendum is quite an unusual and extraordinary mechanism. When was the last time you voted in a referendum? How many government decisions were made in the interim?

3. A referendum is one way to decide the issue, but a referendum is far from perfect. One issue is voter turn-out. In Ontario’s 2018 municipal elections, voter turnout was a mere 38 per cent of eligible voters. Compare that to the process used to establish the DGR site in France, where the municipal government went door-to-door and visited each and every household. Which one of those processes allows everyone to have their say? Is one more “legitimate” than the other? Those opposed to the project appear to think an early referendum is their best chance to kill the project, but that does not make it “the only legitimate way” to make the decision.

4. Many of the scientific studies will not be completed until 2023, and the results will take time to communicate, and for people to receive and understand. A 2022 referendum would not allow us to make an informed decision.

5. Many things, including environmental assessments, regulatory approvals, and a referendum, could kill the DGR project. We should keep the NWMO here spending their money as long as possible. I urge my fellow residents not to sign the petition.

6. Several local papers carried a recent letter from Bill Noll, of the local yellow-sign organization. Mr. Noll seems to want to make this personal, attacking a recent letter I had written, and using my name nine times in his tirade. It’s the second time Mr. Noll has done this. I recently found one of his letters in the Sudbury Star, the headline telling the good people of Sudbury, “What Tony Zettel is Not Telling” them. The Sudbury Star! Really? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not offended by this, and I’m not going to take it personally – but the fact that Bill sent this to the Sudbury Star is actually quite comical. Nobody in Sudbury even knows me, except for my wife’s elderly aunt, and I’m pretty sure most of them don’t care what I am or am not telling them about nuclear waste.

My point is this is not personal. It’s not about Bill Noll, and it’s not about Tony Zettel. This is about environmental safety and prosperity for future generations. It’s about permanently solving a problem for Canadians and the Canadian energy industry. It’s about permanently isolating nuclear waste. And here in South Bruce, it’s about keeping our young people in local, high-paying, high-tech jobs for a couple of generations. 

If we all keep that in perspective, I think we can stop attacking each other, start creating meaningful dialog among neighbours, and make a good, sensible decision, at the right time, as a caring and responsible community.

Tony Zettel
RR5 Mildmay

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