Who Gets a Seat at the Table?

Spectators at the presentation to the standing committee
Don and members of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water getting ready to present to the Standing Committee about the need to maintain a moratorium on high capacity wells – 2014

Recently in the legislature, Opposition MLA Steven Myers challenged Minster Richard Brown on the undue influence of Cavendish Farms on government policy, particularly the Water Act. After several frustrating attempts to clarify what private meetings the government had held during the time when regulations for the Water Act are being developed, he concluded: “Irvings get to have a special seat at the Liberal table when it comes to making policy . . . especially when it comes to dealing with our water . . .”

The minister emphatically denied any special relationship. “We are working with anybody that wants to work with government that has the interest of the environment first. We will continue to meet with each and every person in order to make our environment great.”

But this is simply not the case. Everyone does not have ready access to a place at Minister Brown’s table. I am a member of three organizations that have ‘the interest of the environment first.’ Each has had considerable difficulty arranging a meeting with Minister Brown.

The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water formed in 2013 in response to the Cavendish Farms proposal for lifting the moratorium on high capacity wells for agriculture. Its membership includes 20 environmental, watershed and social justice groups and more than 200 individuals. The coalition has been actively involved in the ongoing process of development of the Water Act. The previous minister, Robert Mitchell noted in the legislature the important contribution the Coalition had made to the Water Act.

The Coalition made several requests for meetings with Minister Brown since he was appointed in January. Eventually a meeting was arranged and then cancelled by the minister. He said he would reschedule. We contacted him again at the end of May. We’re still awaiting his call.

The Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. has a long history of working on behalf of the environment. For 30 years, ECOPEI has been a leader in environmental education, done pioneering work in the restoration of the Acadian Forest through the MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, and done extensive tree planting across the Island, and organizing electoral forums on environmental issues.

ECOPEI has made several requests for meetings with the minister since January to discuss our concerns about a range of important environmental issues. He called back in June, talked about setting up a meeting. We’re still waiting for his call.

The Citizens’ Alliance (CA) formed out of the response of a large group of concerned Islanders to the Plan B project. And while the battle to stop Plan B was unsuccessful, CA formed to continue the spirit and energy of this group. Its mission is to be a vigilant observer and advocate for the environment and to promote democratic process. CA was instrumental in the initial organization of the Water Coalition, in bringing the Blue Dot/Environmental rights campaign to P.E.I., and in opposing the plan to bottle P.E.I. water for export.

CA’s request for a meeting with Minister Brown also went unanswered.

By contrast, there’s Cavendish Farms. Government is interested in developing collaborative relationships with them. They are welcomed at the government table, supported with public money, lauded by the minister for their environmental stewardship. Environmental costs, like the steady decline in the organic content of Island soils in a province with a dominant potato industry, were not even mentioned at a recent Cavendish Farms presentation to the standing committee. [GS2]

Why such a different response? Do the citizens of Prince Edward Island really feel that industry deserves meetings and access while the public does not? Do Islanders believe that the health of the environment that sustains all of us should always take a back seat to the promotion of unlimited economic growth? Do citizens believe that those interests with money and power are entitled to more of a say about what happens on P.E.I. than the rest of us?

The issue of access to water and the health of our waterways is of great importance to all Islanders and not just to those who own processing companies. It’s time for Minister Brown and the government to listen carefully to all of us who truly do have ‘the interest of the environment first.’

– Don Mazer is a member of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, ECOPEI and the Citizens’ Alliance. He lives in Suffolk on the Winter River.

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Coalition Suggests Improvements to Water Act

Opinion Piece published in the Charlottetown Guardian, December 7, 2017

By Catherine O’Brien and Marie Ann Bowden

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water recently met to discuss the newest draft of the Water Act.  After an inclusive and thorough participatory process, we are disappointed that no public consultation was allowed for this final draft.

Though we do see some very positive additions, we feel it is important to point out some significant gaps within the draft Water Act that are of great concern. We hope that some changes and amendments can be made before this Bill becomes law. Continue reading “Coalition Suggests Improvements to Water Act”

A Troubling Issue of High Capacity Wells

Opinion Piece by Gary Schneider and Don Mazer

November 30, 2017

The unveiling of the Water Act did little to resolve the central issue which sparked the creation of the Act – the moratorium on high capacity wells. Over 90% of those who participated in the extensive Water Act consultations were in favour of maintaining the moratorium. Unfortunately, the Act does not reflect this strong consensus.

To be clear, the draft Water Act does NOT include a moratorium on high capacity wells. Surprisingly, “high capacity wells” is only mentioned in a slide presentation on the Act, not in the Act itself. Under the heading “High capacity wells for Ag irrigation”, it says that “Water extractions will be addressed in regulations once the research on stream flow has been completed.”

The problem is that a very complex issue appears to have been simplified to a question of volume. In the face of climate change and competing needs, will we ever have enough scientific certainty to accurately predict how much water might be available for different uses? Even if we do develop trustworthy models, there is so much more to the question of how to safeguard PEI’s precious water resources for future generations than mere volume. Continue reading “A Troubling Issue of High Capacity Wells”

Water Act Debated in Legislature

The Water Act was tabled for second reading in the P.E.I. Legislature on November 29. As debate continues, and in the absence of further public consultation, it is important for MLAs to hear from us. The Coalition has identified several ways in which the act could be improved:

  1. Enshrine that water is a right.
  2. Make the fracking ban a real ban
  3. Use the right names for the terms: precautionary principle, intergenerational equity
  4. Do not allow municipalities to to exceed limits on water withdrawals
  5. Put the moratorium on high capacity wells in the Act
  6. Recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds in the Water Act. 

Continue reading “Water Act Debated in Legislature”

Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water Calls for Improved Environmental Assessment Process

Charlottetown – The decision of the Minister of Communities, Land and Environment to allow genetically modified salmon to be grown in Prince Edward Island was the result of a faulty environmental assessment process, says a local environmental group.

On Tuesday, July 11, representatives of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water met with Minister Mitchell to discuss the Coalition’s concerns about the approval of the proposal by AquaBounty Canada, Inc. to expand their plant in Rollo Bay West. The original approval, which was for an egg production facility, was expanded to a facility at which genetically modified salmon would be grown to market size, and then killed before being exported. 

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The group is unhappy about the approval for a variety of reasons, including the public consultation process, which they say was inadequate and poorly advertised. “Even after Environment officials decided to extend the deadline for submissions, there wasn’t really enough time for people to become informed enough or to prepare to respond to the application for such a big project,” says Catherine O’Brien, Chairperson of the Coalition.  Continue reading “Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water Calls for Improved Environmental Assessment Process”

Coalition Presents its Concerns about the Draft Water Act

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The Coalition is made up of over 20 member groups and hundreds of individual members. Members include ECO PEI, The Cooper Institute, NFU Region 1 District 1, Sierra Club of PEI, Citizens’ Alliance, The Council of Canadians, Don’t Frack PEI, Save our Seas and Shores, and several watershed groups. You’ve heard from some of our member organizations in the last couple meetings. We concur with those presentations you heard, and would like to add a few more points.

The initial consultation process was inclusive and transparent. More time was added for feedback when asked, and many of our recommendations were put forward to you from the EAC. We see some of those recommendations in the draft act.

We would like to ask you once again to continue this positive process and include more meaningful public participation in the creation and completion of the water act.

Concerned Islanders must have a real opportunity to be heard and to feel that they have had a chance to influence the ultimate decisions. I’d like to refer to this chart that demonstrates the best practices for meaningful public participation.

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Continue reading “Coalition Presents its Concerns about the Draft Water Act”

Coalition Presents to Standing Committee

imagesOn October 26th, the Coalition for Protection of PEI Water made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment, following a presentation by the proponents of a proposal for a bottled water plant near Brookvale, PEI.  The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water was represented by Don Mazer, Andrew Lush, Leo Broderick and Chris Ortenburger. As you can imagine, the Coalition has a host of reasons why P.E.I. should not be exporting groundwater. Read the whole presentation here.

Coalition Asks for Moratorium on Bottled Water Exports

shutterstock_103020260Following a meeting with Environment Minister Robert Mitchell, members of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water ask, in anticipation of the next phase of development of a Water Act,  for interim measures to protect water including a moratorium on bottling water for export:

Dear Minister Mitchell

Thank you for meeting with us last week. We were able to cover some of our concerns and we look forward to further discussions with you as we move towards a comprehensive water act. We wanted to follow up on the meeting with some key concerns and questions that we have.

We must impress upon you that we do believe that it would be a prudent and responsible decision to put a hold on future water extraction permits for anything other than the most essential purposes while we await the Water Act. We realize that this is a difficult challenge. While businesses have a certain expectation of expediency, we believe it is your role to impress upon them that any decisions around water use must primarily be grounded in having a system in place that first of all respects our environment and protects our water for future generations. The very process of developing a Water Act reflects the collective awareness that our current policies and regulations been inadequate in accomplishing these key goals. We believe that it is not acceptable to continue to make decisions about water use based upon problematic policies.

One of the important recognitions for us from that meeting is that it seems like no one (including the Coalition) has thought about how decisions about water use and permits will be made in the interim period while the Water Act is being developed. So it is not surprising that current policies, however inadequate, become the ‘fall back’ position.

While we do support a ‘moratorium’ on new permits and uses, we think that it is essential that there be an interim set of priorities for water use developed while we await the Water Act. If decisions must be made in the interim, they need to be grounded in these principles and provide the opportunity to meet ‘essential’ needs. From the consultations, there seems to be widespread agreement that our priorities must always be given first to maintaining healthy ecosystems, providing for basic human needs, and for fire and emergency services. All other permits and new uses can be seen as lower priority and should await the Water Act, and the opportunity to have the discussions and consultations we need about how we believe our water should be used.

Such guidelines would have supported postponing the decision on the AquaBounty applications for permits as a nonessential use, and for the proposed bottled water plant in Brookvale that plans to use PEI water for export.

There are other reasons why a moratorium would be advisable. While we appreciate that you have advised businesses that permits granted now might not be applicable under a new Act, the unsettled issues about grandfather clauses raises serious concerns about whether the province would be liable or responsible for costs should a permit need to be rescinded. We include some other relevant questions and comments about the permitting process.

 Is a PEI permit transferable to another property or business owner?  Can it be included in a personal estate as property to be inherited? Is it collateral for a bank loan? Can excess capacity be sold or traded (or combined into a new enterprise?)  Can neighbors who lose a well or can property owners in a watershed that is drained stop the permitted owner from impacting them? Can PEI rights be sold or transferred to a private interest in another province or to an international interest?

Not only should we be looking at responsible management of water within the province, but also at considering the sovereignty and future food and water security of the Island. We have mutual reasons to prevent PEI water from being a privately owned global commodity.

John Quimby, who lived in California, mentioned the effect of grandfathered water rights there given in 1914 that affected private property owners, the public and government during an historic drought emergency in 2014.

Closer to home, we have seen the public response to the Nestle model of extraction for profit during a drought emergency in Ontario.

Finally, the discussion of the proposed water bottling plant in Brookvale reflected major gaps in policy that needs to be immediately addressed. It was surprising to learn that your department had no jurisdiction to decide about this proposal if the applicants stayed within the existing water extraction guidelines. As we all agree, the way we use our water is an important moral and ethical issue and one that is hotly contested. It is much more than a business decision that can be made by individuals. It was clear that the existing policies would make it possible for any other entrepreneurs to pursue a similar plan. We would be taking a major step toward the commodification of water, without even discussing it.

We urge you to address this policy gap by declaring a moratorium on going forward on any developments of bottled water for export, and will then hope it will be addressed in the Act.

Catherine O’Brien, Don Mazer, Chris Ortenburger, Leo Broderick, John Quimby, For the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

Water Act Consultation Report is Released

“From the public consultations, it was clear that any legislative, regulatory or policy framework should be drafted in such a way as to support efforts to:
• conserve, protect, and restore the health of aquatic and riparian ecosystems;
• safeguard and enhance drinking water;
• regulate water use in a manner that respects ecosystem as well as human needs;
• ensure water security through use efficiency and conservation practices;
• encourage and enforce land use management practices that protect water quality, the
integrity and health of watersheds, associated watercourses, and the groundwater
resource;
• allow for the continuous adaptation of water management rules, as science advances,
or natural conditions change; and
• standardize, streamline and make transparent government decision making.
The new Act need not be prescriptive on every management issue. It should, however, have the flexibility to provide municipalities, communities, advisory groups, and government with
the tools to address water management issues according to the conditions at specific localities, now and in the future. We all depend on the ability to access basic water services and water
resources. The proposed Water Act must be able to deliver on that.”

Read the whole report here:

http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/CLE_EAC_WARep.pdf