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Information in warden’s energy from waste presentation came from Covanta

Information in warden’s energy from waste presentation came from Covanta

15 September 2023 à 11:17 am

Updated on 15 September 2023 à 2:02 pm

Some slides and information used by Warden Jane Toller in public presentations on “Energy from Waste” came directly from the company Covanta, CHIP 101.9 has learned.

The warden has been the public face of the project to establish a waste incinerator in the Pontiac for several years. During this time, she has repeatedly stated that the technology and company to operate the facility hasn’t yet been decided, while also touting the company Covanta as a “world leader” in the business. Covanta operates numerous facilities worldwide, including the Durham York Energy Centre near Toronto, which Toller has visited by herself and also more recently in October 2022 with several mayors and MRC officials.

While the project is in the early stages and the business plan has yet to be started, the outsized role that one company has had in the public discussion raises questions about whether the warden is advocating for one specific technology or company over others. It also raises questions about the objectivity of the data public officials have been receiving on the proposal, especially when it comes to environmental impact or economic viability.

At one of the two public meetings discussing the project back in June, a participant pointed out that Toller’s presentation sounded like a sales pitch from the company, and Toller even showed a short video produced by Covanta at the end of the meeting. According to documents CHIP 101.9 obtained from the MRC through an access to information request, data used in the presentation was taken from a slide show produced by Covanta.

Left is a slide from a presentation created by Covanta that was included in the access to information request. Right, the same figure was used in Toller’s public presentation back in June with the Covanta logo removed. The public presentation can be found here, the Covanta presentation from the access to information request is available via the link in the previous paragraph (scroll down to bottom).

Slides also used in 2020 presentation to Outaouais officials

The public presentation in June isn’t the only time Covanta’s presentation has been borrowed from without attribution. Several slides from the Covanta presentation were included in a 2020 presentation on energy from waste that Toller gave to the Conférence des Préfets de l’Outaouais (CPO), a group made up of the other wardens in the Outaouais, as well as the mayor of Gatineau. The Covanta presentation largely cites the sources of its data, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, but also includes information from the company itself.

Left, is a slide from a Covanta presentation. Right, the same slide with Covanta’s logo removed appears in a presentation that Toller gave to the leaders of the CPO in 2020. Several other slides and figures are similarly copied from the Covanta presentation without attribution.

Presentation created by Toller with staff

In August, CHIP 101.9 requested “any documents, emails, memos, etc. related to the creation of the public presentation on the energy from waste project that was presented back in June”.

Section 9 of Quebec’s access to information law states that preparatory notes, drafts, outlines and other documents of that nature are not public documents and aren’t covered by access to information requests. Director General Kim Lesage, the MRC’s access to information officer, wrote that “some of the documents/written communications relating to your request contain, in our opinion, information covered or protected under section 9”. CHIP 101.9 has the option to request a review of the decision from the Commission d’accès à l’information.

Toller explained that she had made the presentation for the public meetings with the help of MRC staff. She said that it had evolved over the years, as she presented the plan to various officials throughout the Outaouais. Regarding the estimates of the tonnages for a facility to be economically viable, the amount of energy produced and the estimated cost of the facility, Toller said that much of those estimates came from a consultant who’s worked with Covanta and other companies.

When asked about the perception that she as a public official was advocating for a specific private company, by touting their technology, visiting their facilities and using their promotional material, she said that Covanta has a proven technology, unlike other companies that they have researched, and is also the closest operating facility. She also said that she ensures that there is “absolutely never any conflict of interest” in her daily life, and added that she wants the best solutions for the Pontiac.

Toller has previously touted $180 million in commitment from private investors but has only ever named one, Derek McGrimmon of Renfrew, who she said had committed $50 million. McGrimmon owns several companies in Ontario and Quebec, including McGrimmon Cartage, which hauls waste and operates the transfer station in Clarendon. When asked if Covanta is one of these unnamed investors, she wouldn’t say, but added that “whoever the technology is, it’s customary for them to put about 25% of the cost in as equity.”

Business plan in the works

At a special meeting back in August, MRC council set aside $100,000 from its surplus for a single-source contract for Deloitte to produce a business plan for a facility. Toller explained after the meeting that they had chosen Deloitte specifically because they had experience with the industry. Council has allocated a total of $120,000 for the business plan, as any projects over $121,000 are required to go to public tender.