Toronto Star: Oshawa Ethanol Plant Approval by Federal Port Authority Tainted by Cronyism
August 10, 2012
The company behind the $200 million venture, FarmTech Energy, says the ethanol plant will create 50 full-time and 300 construction jobs while generating millions for Oshawa’s economy. Ethanol is a grain-derived renewable fuel source.
But Mayor John Henry sees the project as a lakefront blight. He was left fuming after the Port Authority’s seven-seat board, the majority of which is filled by Transport Canada appointees, approved the project Thursday despite years of opposition from council.
“Our harbour is in the middle of the city,” Henry said, asking Torontonians: “Would you want an ethanol refinery on your waterfront?”
The city sent 3,300 signatures of protest from residents to the federal government just last month. While Henry supports a mixed-use harbour — the port already hosts an asphalt plant and other industrial uses — he says a sprawling ethanol plant will dissuade visitors from coming to nearby parks and beaches and stymie plans for residential development.
“It’s not going to be a nice place to live, work, and play.”
NDP transport critic Olivia Chow was more sharply critical.
Chow blasted the decision on her website, describing the port authority as “stacked” with “Conservative insiders in cahoots with the ethanol plant company.”
Gary Valcour, current chair of the Oshawa Port Authority, stepped down this year as president of the Conservative riding association in Whitby-Oshawa, federal finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s seat.
Chris Kluczewski, another port director, also served on the board of the riding association, as did Tim O’Connor, the brother of FarmTech president Dan O’Connor and a former member of the company’s board. Tim O’Connor was campaign manager in the last provincial election for Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, Flaherty’s wife.
Valcour calls accusations of cronyism “nonsense,” adding that he has served on several boards. “I’d like to think I was appointed because I’ve got a track record of being someone in the community who can get things done.”
He also notes that of the five federal appointees on the Port Authority board, four were originally nominated by port users. (Valcour was the lone direct federal appointee). The city has one appointee, while the province has yet to pick theirs.
Dan O’Connor says that anyone who looks at the six-year process FarmTech went through, including a lengthy and expensive environmental assessment, would find it hard to believe the company benefited from any cronyism.
He adds that this plant will create a local market for area corn farmers, and that the region has seen many industries close down in recent years. “I think that is the overwhelming story here — the jobs.”
While some environmentalists tout ethanol as a renewable fuel, others believe it diverts important resources from food production and spikes food costs. Henry points to ethanol plant closures in the U.S. as evidence the facility may not be an economic boon.
The Oshawa facility will be completed by 2014.