By Krystyn Tully, Waterkeeper.ca Weekly
The word "cronyism" was the 22nd most frequently looked-up word on NTYimes.com in 2011. Readers looked up the word 388 times to discover that it means "the practice of appointing friends to high-level, esp political, posts …".
NYTimes readers could just as easily have followed the ongoing saga of the Harbour Commission-turned-Port Authority in Oshawa, Ontario to glimpse cronyism in action.
For 80 years, the Oshawa Harbour has suffered from dumping, neglect, and conflict between different users. Despite its woes, the harbour is beloved by boaters, residents, and conservationists who have been trying for decades to restore the harbour for the whole city to enjoy.
In 2008, Dan O'Connor and FarmTech Energy Corporation announced a plan to build an ethanol facility on the last greenspace in the harbour. The ethanol plant is supposed to use city water and to bring in grain from southern Ontario. It doesn't need a waterfront location.
Oshawa launched a campaign to move the ethanol refinery to a more suitable location. Harbour Commission Chair Gary Valcour said he was "disappointed" and encouraged the city to take "a more balanced approach". Valcour stated that he found it "offensive" when Oshawa's mayor wrote to "insist that the Oshawa Harbour Commission be transparent and accountable." Valcour went on to state "we're operating as we always do. It's not that we're trying to be obtuse."
We are operating as we always do. That's exactly the problem. The Oshawa Harbour Commission has always been out of touch with people who live in Oshawa and with local political leaders. Ten years ago, Commission CEO Donna Taylor declared "We're going to do what we want with the marina for whatever are our reasons."
The Commission has been true to Taylor's word. Two weeks ago, when Finance Minister and MP for the nearby Whitby-Oshawa riding came to town to announce that the Harbour Commission had finally received its long-sought "Port Authority" status, he did so with Gary Valcour at his side.
When the media saw the list of names involved, alarm bells rang. Despite his terrible relationship with the City of Oshawa, Valcour was named chairman of the board of the new Oshawa Port Authority. He stood beside Mr. Flaherty at the February 10, press conference.
The Globe and Mail pounced on the story, noting that strong political ties between people involved with the new Port Authority and Conservative party decision-makers. Valcour is the president of Mr. Flaherty's Conservative riding association. He sits on the riding association board with Tim O'Connor, a director of FarmTech Energy Christine Elliott's campaign manager in the 2011 provincial election. Ms. Elliott is marred to Mr. Flaherty.
"The mix of port authorities and politics is a regular source of headaches for the Harper government," wrote Globe reporters, linking the announcement to a series of controversies involving port authorities and the Conservative government across Canada.
The Port Authority regime is massively problematic, creating private industrial fiefdoms on the most important harbours in the country. It's a system that Waterkeeper has always opposed. Port Authorities do not have a public interest mandate. They represent only major industrial users.
Mr. Valcour doesn't seem to understand the vision of a mixed-use harbour. He equates not wanting an "industrial port" with not "want[ing] anything down at the harbour." The federal government just handed him the mandate and the institution to make that industrial port a reality, in spite of the community's wishes. They know it isn't what the community wants. They just don't seem to care.
The wildlife, the boaters, and the residents who lose these political games, have no voice in this process. The new Port Authority structure cements that problem for generations to come.
View a timeline for the Oshawa Harbour by clicking here.
See also -
Get a list of all the articles we linked to this week by clicking here.