We are heading into summer in Durham with some welcome wind in our sails. After months of uncertainty following the announcement of the General Motors closure in Oshawa, news that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is planning to establish their headquarters in Clarington was just what we needed to hear. With the consolidation of offices from across Ontario, OPG will construct a new headquarters in Courtice and will make our region its centre of operations. This will mean up to two thousand people working in OPG offices in Durham alongside their existing presence in Pickering and Darlington. On top of this, the recent confirmation that GM will maintain a smaller operation in Oshawa as opposed to a full closure was also good news. As is always the case, agriculture in Durham remains a huge part of our economy as it has since our earliest days and I wrote a few weeks ago about the important role of small businesses and their expansion in our communities. When all these developments are considered together, the future is looking very bright for Durham despite the challenges of a rapidly evolving global economy.
In many ways, the expansion of the energy industry and the retraction of the automotive industry underscores a transition that has been taking place in our region over the last generation. My own family experience demonstrates that. I grew up in Bowmanville and Port Perry in the 1970s and 80s and my father worked at General Motors (GM) like many of the other kids in the area. In fact, over half of the kids in one of my primary school classes had a parent working for either General Motors or Goodyear Rubber – the two largest employers in Bowmanville at the time. GM towered over all other employers in that era and touched many facets of life in Durham. We cheered for the Oshawa Generals and we drove GM (I still proudly do). To put it in perspective, GM Oshawa employed about 25,000 people at a time when the total population of the City of Oshawa was 91,000 and Bowmanville had a whopping 9,000 people. Our area truly was the ‘City that Moto-vates Canada’ and we were proud of it. In the late 1980s the dynamic of our area being a ‘factory town’ began to evolve and our economy became more diversified.
In grade five, my teacher asked students to interview someone in the community on an important topic. Likely at the suggestion of my father, I interviewed the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) about the construction of the Darlington Generating Station on the edge of town. Sam Cureatz was the gracious MPP who indulged a precocious 11-year-old asking questions about this new project. I had no idea what nuclear power was, but I remembered his excitement about the project and his promise that this plant would “help keep the lights on for Ontario”. In that moment, a young kid became a future advocate for nuclear energy and, although I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, our area was establishing itself as an energy centre.
Darlington and its sister plant in Pickering have indeed helped keep the lights on in Ontario. Together with the nuclear operations in the Bruce, they provide more than 60% of Ontario’s electricity generation. Even more impressive in the era of tackling climate change, this energy is Green House Gas (GHG) emission free. In fact, the only serious reductions in GHG emissions made by Canada in the last decade has largely come from the displacement of coal-fired electricity by nuclear power in Ontario. Our plants in Durham and the people who work there have been recognized as global safety leaders and Canadian ‘CANDU’ technology is the best in the world in terms of safety and reliability. Canada has been a leader in this industry. We were only the third country to develop controlled nuclear fission and today CANDU reactors help ‘keep the lights on’ in countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. 70,000 Canadians work in this sector, but few Canadians understand its importance in terms of our competitiveness and environment.
As the economy transitioned from relying on a small number of large employers, Durham slowly became an energy hub almost by accident. For a half century, uranium has been refined in Port Hope and as you travel west along the 401 you will pass generating stations in Darlington and Pickering that tap the energy of that resource. Add to that the specialized training and education programs at Durham College and Ontario Tech University (UOIT) and you have a world class ecosystem for the nuclear energy and the electricity sector broadly. The recent announcement of isotope production in Darlington and now the exciting news of the OPG headquarters further solidifies our region as Canada’s Clean Energy Capital.
I am proud to say that I have been a champion of the industry alongside the employees, the host community Mayor in Clarington and Pickering and other stakeholders. I mentioned the goal of Durham becoming a national energy hub in my 2012 by-election and started working on that shortly thereafter. I started a nuclear energy caucus in Ottawa to allow parliamentarians to engage with industry and promote our technology around the world. Last summer I appeared in person at regulatory hearings reviewing the extension of the Pickering operating license and I try to remain engaged with the workers, their unions and the wider supply chain-employed people across Ontario. I find that everyone I meet in the industry are highly skilled, committed to safety and all are very proud of the role nuclear energy can play in Canada’s efforts to lower our GHG emissions. This is why the recent announcement from OPG is so exciting. It is the recognition that Durham is a world class hub for nuclear energy. We are Canada’s Clean Energy Capital and we should be proud of the people keeping our lights on!