August in the Pontiac: garbage and glory

After two week-long visits to the built-up environment that is Toronto, I can say that returning home to the Pontiac rejuvenates my soul. The expanse of green matched by blue sky, the height of the corn (okay, in some fields), the birdsong -- and the sight of a doe with twin fawns all conspire to make me realize how lovely our countryside is.

And, how precious it is.

In contrast, down in "Hogtown," mayor Mel Lastman and his Greater City of Toronto council have just decided to ship their garbage north, to Kirkland Lake.

You can just imagine how the folks in that northern Ontario city feel about the decision.

Pontiacers can sympathize with Kirkland Lake residents because we remember this garbage issue all too well. The Equity, this writer and many residents here in the Pontiac opposed welcoming Ottawa and Montreal's garbage at Bristol's Hilton Mine site.

You'll recall that the issue was inflammatory. Some proponents rallied around the economic opportunity of garbage, claiming that the infusion of waste would (not could) create jobs. They argued that the tipping fees would outweigh costs, and proposed that the necessary infrastructure improvements could only benefit Bristol and the region. As well, these people said that engineering technology was so advanced that concerns regarding contamination and pollution were unwarranted.

Others among us opposed accepting garbage into the old iron mine. Many pointed to the possibility of leaching, whereby liquid waste matter could seep through cracks in the surface of the rock into the groundwater. Now that Waterton's e-coli tragedy has struck, these claims will be even more important for the Kirkland Lake people to investigate because everyone is worried about water quality these days.

And what about the infrastructure improvements? If roads were only improved so that garbage trucks could venture on them, what is the point in that? How many trucks would have streamed into Pontiac carrying garbage? Moreover, in a region that possesses enviable natural beauty, why should we accept other folks garbage?

This is the nub of the question: personal responsibility, or the lack of it.

So, what are we to do? Here is the example of Toronto, the largest metropolitan region in Canada with a huge tax base. Here is Toronto, the self-indulgent city that professes to be the centre of the Canadian universe.

How does Toronto manage its waste, this supposed centre of innovation and "best ideas"?

They shirk responsibility. They throw up their hands at imposing efficient recycling initiatives.

Mayor Mel Lastman and his crew ought to be pilloried. They set a terrible, wasteful and arrogant example to the rest of the country.

The example here is especially galling for the people of Kirkland Lake who oppose accepting Toronto's garbage. While everyone else in the countryside surrounding The City heaves a secret sigh of relief that their spot of countryside wasn't selected, residents of that northern town must be discouraged.

And to discourage them more, there's not that much about it in the media. Oh sure, while I was in Toronto there was a little bit of a buzz about it.

But not much.

Why? Perhaps that's because the media are centered in Toronto. Perhaps it's because everyone, not simply Torontonians, want the issue of garbage to "go away." Perhaps it's because we're all NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) about garbage.

It is ironic, isn't it, that the largest city in Canada cannot cope with its own garbage. It's a real shame that points to political lack of will concerning something that each and every one of us produce: waste.

It's also disappointing. Disappointing because garbage could be a great resource for our world communities if it could be efficiently "mined." The problem posed by human waste should represent a project for undergraduate engineering and economics students in our universities, so that the best scientific and business minds could be applied to our common problem.

And it is disappointing to other communities like ours, here in the Pontiac, that the Greater City of Toronto with all its supposed supremacy of creative minds, tax base and infrastructure cannot lead us to a better, year 2000 resolution of the common problem.

What it appears to imply to us, here in the Pontiac as well as in Kirkland Lake is that we have little hope. Little hope of getting our local councils to improve dumps, to be leaders in initiatives like solar aquatics vs. lagoons. If Toronto is allowed to turn its back upon responsible if not innovative solutions, then how can smaller communities hope to do so?

Arrogance has no place in our connected communities of year 2000, yet it still thrives. We must find a better way to treat our garbage than simply to send it to another community.

Shame on you, Mel Lastman and Council. In your position, you should be forced to find a sustainable, responsible solution.

And Pontiacers, be watchful. Bristol's Hilton Mine is still here, waiting.