Wind power could blow Hudak away

Author: 
Brian MacLeod
Source: 
Ottawa Sun
Date published: 
Sun, 2011-08-07

On the surface, it’s easy to interpret Energy Minister Brad Duguid’s move to make it difficult for a future Tory government to kill some 1,800 pending wind energy projects as an attempt to entrench Liberal policies ahead of a defeat.

But it’s just as likely part of the Liberals’ search for a wedge issue like the one they exploited so well in 2007, when then-Progressive Conservative leader John Tory lost his grip on the campaign over his promise to extend funding to faith-based schools.

The Liberals raised such an issue last month, accusing Tory Leader Tim Hudak of hiding his views on abortion. Hudak, it turns out, had signed a petition during the Tories’ 2009 leadership race favouring withdrawal of public funding for abortion. His response to questions on the issue in July — “I may have signed a petition from my riding in that respect” — was feeble.

The abortion ambush was legitimate. Abortion is one of the most enduring hyper-political issues in Canada. You’d better have your stance clear when you’re looking for a leadership position.

Just how strong are Hudak’s beliefs on abortion, and is he likely to act on them? He has to explain.

This is fair game in politics.

The Liberals see wind energy as another potential wedge issue, despite the presence of intense opposition in some areas where turbines will be placed.

Duguid has made it more difficult to cancel contracts under the feed-in-tariff program, which heavily subsidizes power generated by approved wind projects for many years.

An Ipsos Reid survey taken in July 2010 showed 89% of Ontarians who responded strongly or somewhat supported the development of wind power.

“Most Ontarians — in every region of the province — support the production of wind energy in their region of the province,” Ipsos Reid concluded. “In fact, support for wind energy production remains high, even when the geographic location mentioned is ‘in your community.’ Just three in 10 say they wouldn’t want wind turbines in their community.”

Marry that with Ontarians’ top concern — jobs — and you’ve got the makings of an uncomfortable scenario for Hudak, since the Liberals claim their wind energy policies will create 50,000 jobs by the end of 2012.

Wind energy companies are speaking out, criticizing Hudak for his pledge to scrap the feed-in-tariff program, saying it will push investment elsewhere. The province is, in effect, supporting a burgeoning industry in which Ontario is a nationwide leader.

This puts Hudak squarely at odds with companies that are bringing manufacturing investment to a province that has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the past decade.

The Liberals are apt to rely on a series of these wedge issues. Aside from abortion and wind energy, look for Hudak’s flip-flop on the Ontario Human Rights Commission to emerge as a contentious issue.

During the Conservative leadership race, Hudak pledged to scrap the commission. Now that he leads the party, he says he’ll just “fix” it.

Taken together, these issues can portray a vacillating leader.

That’s valuable ground for a damaged leader like Dalton McGuinty, in a campaign in which leadership will be a key issue.

            

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