Everyone loves a good David vs. Goliath story and Unlikely Radicals: The Story of the Adams Mine Dump War by Charlie Angus is as good as it gets. Centred on the campaign to keep Toronto’s garbage from being dumped in a decommissioned Northern Ontario mine, Unlikely Radicals isn’t just a story about the rural north vs. the urban south, it’s a story about the politicization of ordinary people — including Angus himself.
In the late 1990s Charlie Angus, NDP Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay (and current Official Opposition Critic for Ethics), “believed that organized politics was the domain of stuffy old men.” The former Toronto activist and punk rock musician was living in Cobalt, a town of fewer than 1,500 people in the heart of Northern Ontario’s historic Mining District. It was also part of the Timiskaming District, “ground zero” for the Adams Mine dump war, the fight to keep Toronto’s garbage from being dumped in the environmentally sensitive region.
Backgrounder: How Toronto reached critical load
In 1989 Dofasco, a steel company based in Hamilton, announced the closure of the 8000 acre Adams Mine site. For the mining-dependant local population, the closure spelled economic disaster and as a community facing massive job loss they were tremendously vulnerable.
By the 1980s Toronto’s garbage problem had reached a crisis point. The city was looking at having filled its existing landfill sites years earlier than predicted and was desperate to find a community that would accept their garbage. Following a U.S. model, City Council looked for an economically depressed rural community desperate for jobs.
As Angus describes it, “the process of choosing a community for waste export is by its very nature predatory … communities aren’t chosen because their land is ideal for landfill, they are chosen because they aren’t deemed to have the political or financial resources to fight back.”
By the time dump venture shill Gordon McGuinty (who Angus describes as a “former ski bum from North Bay”) jumped on the bandwagon and proposed the abandoned Adams Mine open pit complex, Toronto City Council thought they’d hit the motherlode. So to speak. The decommissioned Adams Mine looked like a dream come true, the perfect solution to Toronto’s garbage problem.
The Adams Mine community seemed to fit the bill as “an internal Third World,” a community both vulnerable and seemingly unprepared to put up any significant resistance to such a project.
But resist they did. With five separate campaigns and through numerous provincial governments, “a bunch of farmers, retirees and First Nations people stood up to the Man and kicked his ass.”
It’s all about the water (and the people too!)
Angus, the author of five previous books on Northern Ontario, chose his subject matter well. As Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow puts it, “the world is running out of accessible clean water. Modern humans are polluting, mismanaging and displacing our freshwater sources at an alarming rate.”
Water is a major environmental issue and the need for it is universal, which is one of many things that makes Angus’ telling of the Adams Mine story so compelling. Angus makes it abundantly clear that opposition to the Adams Mine project wasn’t nimbyism, it was a deep concern about the land and water from those who were closest to them.
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