Gerretsen's green challenge

Kingston Whig-Standard: November 2, 2007

Ontario's new environment minister, John Gerretsen, is a gregarious sort who loves to joke and tease. In his serious moments, however, he often expresses surprise at how politicians are perceived by the public. There's no big mystery to politics, he insists. It's all about talking to people and getting them to agree with one another.

Kingston's MPP is good at doing all that. He proved it during his four years as municipal affairs minister, when he negotiated the Greenbelt Act, which preserves 1.8 million acres of undeveloped land in the Greater Toronto Area and won him two prestigious awards. He was also responsible for introducing progressive new land-use legislation.

The environment portfolio will also require Gerretsen to draw from his considerable cache of political and "people" skills. The fact that many environmental issues facing Ontario for the first time are being tested in his home riding of Kingston and the Islands may also be in his favour.

For one thing, it means Gerretsen may not have the same steep learning curve as other cabinet colleagues might have. And he may also know many of the key players personally and have already won their confidence.

He should be up to speed, for example, on the fierce fight over the Lafarge cement plant's tire-burning proposal that will be decided at a landmark hearing next spring. He will likely be familiar with citizen concerns about noise and setbacks from the wind farm planned for Wolfe Island - and proposed for other neighbouring islands whose residents are also feeling vulnerable. He has surely been in Kingston during one of the record number of "smog alerts" that were issued last summer.

But the province's deteriorating air quality is only one of a plethora of issues that the new environment minister will soon be tackling. He'll also have tough decisions to make about nuclear power, ethanol plants and the electrical grid. The biggest challenge he faces is really the "greening" of Ontario: deciding what must be done and then providing the leadership to ensure it gets done.

But if Gerretsen is right, that shouldn't be a big deal. Politics, after all, isn't rocket science. It's about talking to people and getting them to agree. We hope that philosophy continues to serve him well over the next four years.

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