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PC leader Wakeham on wind energy petition

Updated: Jan 17

MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port). –File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — The wind development project planned by World Energy GH2 on the Port au Port Peninsula has caused a division between those opposed to the project and those hoping to see it move forward. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, there are reasonable concerns and due diligence must be performed. Two weeks ago, MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port), Leader of the Official Opposition, read a petition in the House of Assembly that was brought to him by residents who are opposed to the project, sparking a dissatisfaction on social media from those who want the project to move forward, particularly some who felt as though their opinions were not being heard or supported in the same capacity. Reading the petition is part of Wakeham’s job description as the area’s MHA. “In the district, there are people that are opposed to the windmill project and there are many, many people who are supportive of the windmill project and would like to see development, and I tell people that my job as an MHA is to represent all people in my district. Whether you voted Liberal or PC or NDP or anything, it doesn’t matter. I’m here to represent the people of the district of Stephenville – Port au Port, and when a group of people bring me a petition that would like me to present in the House, then I feel an obligation to present it in the House of Assembly on their behalf, which I did,” said Wakeham. “What is really interesting, though, is they didn’t listen, because when you present a petition, you simply read out what the petition says and it has to be in a format that has to be approved by the House of Assembly and all of those things before you actually stand up and read it out in the House, and then you turn around and you have an opportunity to speak, and I spoke and my comments were the same comments that I’ve been making since this project was first announced, and talking about the fact that this project and wind energy in the province has the potential to be a game changer for Newfoundland and Labrador.” Just because the project has a great deal of potential doesn’t mean it should be approved without careful examination either. “We need economic development, but at the same time as we need economic development and the jobs and all of those things that come with that, we have to make sure that we do it right. And so the onus is on government to ensure that any project that is being proposed in this province and in our region, we turn around and make sure that we minimize the impacts on people and the environment, and we maximize the benefits for the province and for the community, because we need a community benefits agreement as part of that,” said Wakeham. “That’s a role that government has to play in doing that, and that’s the message I will continue to send out. So it’s not about being opposed. It’s about let’s deal with the issue. Let’s find a way to address all of the concerns that people have. The legitimate concerns are there. Let’s eliminate rhetoric, let’s eliminate politics. Let’s focus on the facts and the evidence and say, can we do this in a way that minimizes impacts and maximizes benefits? And that’s where government has a responsibility to do their reviews, to do their due diligence, and also to work with communities and ensuring that those economic opportunities and those economic benefits accrue to their communities, not just in the construction phase, but long term. So that’s been my message and I will continue to deliver that message.” Just because he read the petition doesn’t mean Wakeham is himself opposed to the project. “I can tell you somebody said, ‘well, you signed the petition’, I said, ‘No, I didn’t sign the petition. I signed the bottom of the petition along with the Clerk of the House of Assembly’, because when you present a petition in the House, you have to sign it to enter it into the House of Assembly the same as the Clerk of the House signs it to enter it in. But there’s been a lot of that small stuff going on about that. But we have an opportunity, this district of Stephenville – Port au Port is one of those in the province that has some of the highest unemployment per capita in the province and some of the lowest per capita income. So we need economic development in our entire region. We have opportunities now when it comes to wind energy, when it comes to salt mines, when it comes to other mining opportunities. We have to take a look and say, ‘how can we take advantage of all of these opportunities’? But let’s make sure we do it right. So let’s make sure we do the homework. That’s what government is elected to do is to represent the people of the province and to make sure that when they put their stamp on it or approve things, then they know that we’ve looked at everything and we’ve done our analysis and that’s what we want them to do,” said Wakeham. “I will do the same thing when somebody else brings me a petition that is for the development of the wind farm. I would do the same thing, obviously, because it’s not about that. It’s about representing, being the voice of people. So you bring their voice and you present the petition for the people that we, the undersigned, these are the people that have concerns around it, and so you present that in the House the same as you would present, that I presented a lot of petitions around.” There will always be opposing viewpoints crossing any MHA’s desk, noted Wakeham. “When you speak to people in the communities, you will speak to some people who are opposed and some people who are for, and then there’s a lot of other people undecided. But the way I look at all these opportunities — because it is an opportunity thing — we have to make sure of is that we do this thing, as I keep saying, it has to be done in a way that minimizes impacts and maximizes benefits. For someone to say there won’t be any impacts is wrong, too. There’s no doubt there will be impacts, but how do you minimize them? And what’s the risk? We will never eliminate risk, but we manage it. So let’s make sure that we do these things and with these opportunities that come along for our province. We need jobs and we need to create jobs and we need to create industry, but we simply can’t simply open it up and say, ‘here you go’. I think that’s where government has a role to play, to make sure that things are based on evidence, based on data, based on science and to do their due diligence,” said Wakeham. “And the people of the province depend on our government to do that. And if the government needs to be able to communicate that back to the people, let the people know what they’re doing, what they have done, what they continue to do, and that was one of the things I asked the Minister that day, is to tell the people of the Port au Port Peninsula what you’ve done and what you continue to do, because that’s what’s important, the whole communication piece.” Wakeham is adamant that moving forward in the correct way is the only way to truly ensure such a project will be successful. “The people that are against the windmills will see their petition that way, and people that are for the windmills will see it in a different way, and there’s been back and forth like that. But again, for me, I’ve always stood on the ground that this is not about individuals, this is not about politics, this is about getting something done and making sure we do it right,” said Wakeham. “And that’s why I think we have to focus on that. I always use the expression, ‘In God We Trust, but everybody else requires data’, and I think that’s why we have to be here. Let’s base it on the evidence. Let’s base it on the science, eliminate the rhetoric, eliminate the politics. Let’s make sure that we continue to move forward and grow our economy and to grow the district of Stephenville – Port au Port.”

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