On September 22, 2014 at the all-candidates meeting at the Bala Community Center in Bala, Ontario – all eyes turned to a controversial energy proposal threatening the town’s historic waterfalls. Parked outside of the meeting was a 45-foot motor home that unloaded Sharkwater (2007) and Revolution (2013) director Rob Stewart, a film crew with five cameramen, and a Canadian Police certified polygraph operator.
Canadian corporation Swift River Energy Limited is proposing a hydroelectric generating station be constructed at the famed and National Geographic award-winning Bala Falls.
“My friends and I grew up playing in these waterfalls and I couldn’t imagine Muskoka without them,” says Stewart. “A power plant here would degrade the heritage site, could kill innumerable fish and aquatic species, and affect Bala’s economy by degrading the town’s most beloved tourist destination.”
This energy project is part of the Ontario Government’s green energy policy – awarding energy contracts to private for-profit corporations that will sell the energy to Ontario Hydro. Energy produced by the plant will apparently be sold at 17 cents per kilowatt hour – a price far above current energy prices – meaning taxpayers will be subsidizing this energy production.
This proposal has caused outrage within the local community where 93 per cent of respondents to an independently conducted survey on the Cottage Country Now website, support Muskoka Lakes council’s efforts to continue to fight Swift River Energy on their hydro electric project in Bala. Another survey conducted by Protean Strategies found that 83 per cent of respondents answered “No” to the question, “Do you think the proposed power plant at Bala Falls should be built?”
Despite the public sentiment, some political candidates vocally support the project, which has become an election issue.
“The town is curious why those supporting the power plant are doing what they are doing,” said Bala resident and business owner Bill Purks. “I doubt my business that has been around since 1973 will be here if the power plant goes through.”
At the meeting, candidate for mayor Don Furniss and township councilor candidate Greg Knight were asked by filmmakers if they would take a lie detector test administered by a Canadian Police certified polygraph operator on the following statement: “Neither I, nor any of my family, businesses or affiliates stand to benefit from the proposed hydro power plant in Bala.” Both candidates agreed on camera to take the test after the meeting, but later refused.
There has also been concern about lawsuits being launched against opponents to the project, including a lawsuit against Mayor Alice Murphy.
Due to the significance of the land to First Nations, the federal and provincial governments and the corporation must consult with all potentially impacted First Nations. The Wahta Mohawks have not been consulted, according to Chief Philip Franks of the Wahta Mohawks community, and the plant would degrade the historically significant Bala Portage as the only water passage connecting the Muskokas to Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.
“I am very concerned with the failure of various governments to involve our community in any or all discussions leading up to the decision to move forward with the development of this hydro-electric development without our full participation, under the Duty to Consult and Accommodate,” says Chief Wayne Pamajewon on behalf of Shawanaga First Nation.
Stewart and his team are developing a film around the grassroots movement that’s opposing the power plant. “Its just the kind of story people need to hear,” said Stewart. “Everyone should know they have a powerful voice.”