In the days following the Fukushima meltdowns, I was invited to participate in a televised debate, on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, on Ontario’s electricity policy. The show had originally been planned to debate green energy, but with the world’s media riveted on Fukushima it was inevitable that the meltdowns would occupy a big part of the time. I made sure to voice my approbation for Ontario energy minister Brad Duguid, who very early into the Fukushima situation told a newspaper that Ontario would be sticking with nuclear, no matter what was happening in Japan.
It takes guts for a politician to say something like that, especially with every major mainstream media outlet in the world screaming about the dire consequences that were sure to come. Most people, including I myself, spend more time criticizing politicians’ shortcomings than praising their strengths. So I went out of my way to tip my hat to Duguid for standing up for Ontario’s most important energy source.
Here’s a clip of the debate:
I want to do the same today to Duguid’s successor in the provincial energy portfolio, Chris Bentley. Bentley’s party holds the biggest number of seats of any party in the Ontario legislature, but the opposition parties combined hold an equal number of seats (there is one vacant seat, for which a by election will be held some time soon). In Canada, that’s called a minority government. Minority governments in Canada are more similar to the normal congressional state of affairs at the federal level in the U.S. than are majority governments, in which the governing party’s seats outnumber those of the combined opposition.
Moreover, Bentley’s party, the Liberals, owe their minority government to the so-called 416 voting region, i.e., most of the city of Toronto. If you were to poll 416 voters on energy issues, most of them would likely say they support “green” energy like wind and solar. Usually, that also means they would oppose nuclear energy. (That is a generalization, of course, but there is something to it.)
In spite of this, Bentley had some very positive things to say about nuclear energy recently. I could summarize and paraphrase, but I will give his exact words. Here is what Minister Bentley said to the Government of Ontario Standing Committee on Estimates on May 9, 2012:
You know, I wanted to build on a little bit of the conversation around nuclear and then maybe develop some other things. I think my first experience with nuclear was in the late 1960s when I, with the family, drove by the proposed nuclear power plant, the Bruce, and of course, I was interested in this technology that I was not aware of before.
Nuclear, from that point on, has been a very reliable and very clean source of power for the people of the province of Ontario. It’s baseload power, which simply means you can rely on it, it can run and it runs 24-7. There are few sources of power, once it’s built, that are more efficient and effective and none that are cleaner than nukes—none that are cleaner than nukes. There may be some that are as clean, but none cleaner. So it has been a very significant and important source of power in the province of Ontario for a long period of time. It’s not surprising that when we developed and when we got extensive public consultation and submissions on the long-term energy plan, the view was it should continue to be a source of power in the province of Ontario into the future. About 50% of our baseload power—it’s about a third of the generating capacity, but because it runs all the time, it’s about half of the power that we actually rely on and use. The fuel is relatively inexpensive, fuel prepared up in the great riding of Peterborough.
In fact, the nuclear industry in the province of Ontario supports—I’ve seen various accounts—I think it’s close to 80,000 jobs; not only those directly involved in the nuclear facilities, but by both Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power.
Also, who prepares the fuel cells, puts it into the fuel rods? Who does the retooling? Who does the year-to-year maintenance? Who does the research, the development? All of those spinoff industries, many of which are strung around the GTA—but every part of Ontario, and I mentioned Peterborough, is touched in some way by the nuclear industry.
I think we just need to remember that the nuclear industry has not only been a very good, reliable, clean source of power in the province of Ontario, but it also happens to support about 80,000 jobs. From what I’ve heard, and to use a phrase that I hear from another part of the House from time to time, particularly from the third party, those are good jobs. These are highly skilled jobs. These are very-good-wage jobs. These are jobs that support families. These are jobs requiring a high degree of skill, a great deal of technical expertise, a lot of training. These are long-term jobs. These aren’t 60-minute jobs. We’re talking about a lot of very highly skilled jobs that last a long period of time.
Of course, the nuclear reactors in the province of Ontario, the Candu technology that has been used in them, sold around the world—we have engineers here. We have experts here in the province of Ontario who take that expertise that’s developed, nurtured, right here in Ontario all around the world. We’ve got nukes with the Candu technology all around the world—a very significant factor, a major export industry for us.
We also happen to have some of the world’s foremost experts in nuclear technology and running nuclear power facilities. I mentioned Tom Mitchell, who’s the head of Ontario Power Generation—so the Darlington and Pickering sites. He led the international effort, went over to Japan, to deal with the issues related to the tsunami, the terrible tragedy there that affected so many and caused such loss of life and huge long-term damage. Duncan Hawthorne was part of that, as well. They happen to be running our two facilities right here in the province of Ontario.
It’s interesting that Bentley’s main interlocutor through the discussion on nuclear at that day’s meeting was Peter Tabuns, the New Democratic Party energy critic and MPP for Toronto-Danforth (another 416 riding). Tabuns is a smart, courteous, hardworking professional politician, and, according to one of my brothers who was one of his constituents (and voted for him), a good constituency man to boot. I debated him on TVO a month before the 2012 provincial election; it was an honour. But he is also a former Greenpeacer, which means he’s doctrinally opposed to nuclear. I wonder how that works with his caucus colleague and fellow 416er from Parkdale-High Park, Cheri DiNovo. I was at a conference last year where DiNovo was one of the keynote presenters. She emphasized the importance of the Tibetan ex-pat community in Parkdale-High Park—which she claimed is the largest Tibetan community outside Tibet—with numerous references to “His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
Well, His Holiness the Dalia Lama endorsed civilian nuclear power last year. I wonder how DiNovo’s Tibetan constituents view that endorsement. And I wonder how that affects the NDP caucus dynamics—the party’s 416 caucus is hugely important, but small.
Minister Bentley said much more about nuclear during the May 9 committee meeting. But I think the quote above encapsulates it nicely. This point above all is worth repeating:
There are few sources of power, once [they’re] built, that are more efficient and effective and none that are cleaner than nukes—none that are cleaner than nukes. There may be some that are as clean, but none cleaner.