February 6th, 2014

Today’s Guardian covers the involvement of lobbyists in the high capacity well issue.
Yesterday was a meeting of the Legislative Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.  They were just supposed to plan the schedule for requests for presentations from groups concerned about high capacity wells.  It sounds like the PC Opposition (which is different then one of them first said) *did* meet with the lobbyists, but not Mr. Chris LeClair (Premier Ghiz’s former chief of staff).  The bolding is mine:

Call for lobbyists to testify leads to fiery debate
by Teresa Wright
printed in The Guardian on February 6th, 2014
A fiery meeting of MLAs on the contentious issue of deep-water irrigation wells ended Wednesday with a majority vote against calling two politically connected lobbyists to testify.
Opposition MLA Colin LaVie wanted the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry to call the premierʼs former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King to appear.
The two have been hired by the Potato Board and Cavendish Farms to co-ordinate meetings with as many provincial MLAs as possible to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on irrigation wells.
LaVieʼs request led to a heated exchange between government and Opposition MLAs Wednesday, especially when it came to light LeClair did not attend meetings with the Tory caucus or with Independent MLA Olive Crane, but did atend meetings with Liberal MLAs.
“They didnʼt see fit to attend our (meeting). Why?” said Opposition MLA James Aylward.
“I think this committee, Islanders in general, deserve to know what these lobbyists are doing, what their agenda is.”
Liberal backbencher Kathleen Casey argued calling the P.E.I. Potato Board to the committee would suffice, since the board was one of the parties that engaged LeClair.
Liberal MLA Pat Murphy accused the Tories of playing politics on the issue of deep-water wells, which he said is a “very important issue to the province.”
But Opposition Leader Steven Myers frequently interrupted them.
“He was the premierʼs right-hand-man, heʼs lobbying on behalf of the potato industry, letʼs have him here,” he said.
“Does having Chris LeClair involved with this give whoever it is thatʼs lobbying for deep water wells… a direct line to the decision maker of this province. Thatʼs the question.
“It just screams political interference. I donʼt know why you wouldnʼt want to know if someone is trying to directly influence the premier.”
The only Liberal MLA who supported the idea of calling the two to testify was Buck Watts, who said he felt it was the only way they could clarify their roles and not continue to polarize the committee.
“After hearing the way this meeting is starting out, I think we should bring Cynthia King and Chris LeClair in to clear their name and find out exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it… who were they hired by, who were they paid by, whatʼs their reason for doing it,” Watts said.
“Weʼre going to be into a bloody mess all through if we donʼt get this straightened out off the bat, get this cleaned up, get this off the plate.”
But in the end, the request was denied in a vote of 4-3, with Watts voting with LaVie and Aylward. Casey, Murphy, Bush Dumville and Hal Perry defeated the motion.
After the meeting, LaVie said he believes the Liberals on the committee were the ones playing politics.
“Itʼs another sign theyʼve got something to hide,” he said.
“Theyʼre making a political issue out of it, and they said in the meeting they didnʼt want to make it political – then put them at the table. Let us hear it.”
The committee did, however agree to LaVieʼs request to call Environment Minister Janice Sherry to appear. The committee will further be delving into the hot-button issue of deep well irrigation for the next two months, with weekly meetings planned until the end of March.
After that, public consultations will be held to ensure all Islanders have the chance to voice their opinions.


And finally, in a sea of well-crafted, heartfelt letters about this high capacity well issue, this evocative one:


Using more water wonʼt help matters
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on February 05, 2014

More water, more potatoes, more environmental degradation.
Since the science says P.E.I.ʼs deep- water supply can grow more potatoes, whatʼs the guarantee it will be done more safely to enhance the environment?
And why hasnʼt science disproven the theory that what weʼre growing and how weʼre growing it may be connected to P.E.I.ʼs high cancer rate?
Weʼve been told for years that growing more potatoes, like catching more lobsters, results in lower prices in the marketplace where we are a mere drop in the bucket, compared to Idaho and Western Canada where soils are rich and deep.
Using more water wonʼt change farming methods. Choosing to use more water to mitigate poor farming practices wonʼt work to enhance worn out soil, and improve the environment everyone shares.
Letʼs ask some basic questions here of our government or any other party that wants to form one:
– How will pumping more water to grow 30,000 more acres of potatoes stop environmental degradation?
– How will 30,000 acres more make P.E.I. a better place to be in 2103 when weʼre all gone and weʼve left the mess to families following us?
– What ever happened to the Liberal philosophy of Canadaʼs youngest premier in 1966 who said “the faster we go, the more behinder weʼll get”? Alex Campbell was 32 and just last month Premier Robert Ghiz turned 40. I think our premier needs to talk with Alex soon about a vision that hasnʼt become a reality to make P.E.I. stronger, and a better place to live.
We must become more than just a province where former Islanders come home to retire and then die, in a dying environment.
In this small Island heaven, weʼve got to get our furrows “straighter” before we “drift” any further.
Lorne Yeo,
Argyle Shore

Ian Petrie Blog Post re: PEI Deep Well Irrigation


A Man On a Mission

I’ve always respected Daryl Guignon. He spent his working days and now his retirement teaching and advocating on behalf of the natural world.  And he’s done most of it not from the comfort of an academic’s office or university classroom,  but with hip waders on, in the cold and wet,  outside. He was always first on-site when there was a fish kill, or some other environmental crisis. He’d speak quietly but passionately about what had happened, and if asked, why. He’d never condemn farmers as a group, and would often acknowledge that many farmers are doing a better job protecting the environment.  Now he’s become the principal opponent to issuing new permits for deep water wells, and he’s definitely making headway. 

On Tuesday Environment minister Janice Sherry threw the issue back to the Potato Board, saying it has to convince the public that the science is sound, and irrigation can be done with minimal environmental impact. That followed revelations that the Board and Cavendish Farms had hired two former Liberal insiders (Chris Leclair and Cynthia King) to lobby MLA’s (the Liberal caucus essentially) about the merits of the plan.  Both of these developments indicate a proposal that’s in deep trouble.  Asking the Potato Board to convince skeptical Islanders is like asking Don Cherry to convince people sick of hockey violence to start liking it, it ain’t going to happen. In my opinion the Board has taken on an advocacy role in this not because all of its grower members want it but  because the public would be even more hostile if it were just Irving owned Cavendish Farms making the case.

And let’s be honest, Cavendish Farms does have a case to make. All its major competitors in the french fry racket work with growers who have access to irrigation. Cavendish itself operates a plant in Jamestown North Dakota and  buys from growers there who use irrigation, so the company knows the benefits. It also knows what can happen if there is a serious drought on PEI. In 2001 Cavendish had to import millions of pounds of potatoes from Maine and Manitoba to keep its big customer Wendy’s happy with french fries that droop over the front of the box (that takes big brick-like potatoes).  That’s when it started lobbying the provincial government to increase the use of irrigation here. Climate change, and the worry that sufficient rain can longer be counted on, has made this more critical.  Again let’s be honest, the real benefits of irrigation go to Cavendish too.  Unless we have several drought years in a row, the economics for potato growers investing in irrigation is very marginal.  And many growers worry that if new permits are allowed Cavendish will make having irrigation a condition of getting a contract, and that will be too expensive for growers with small contracts.

Daryl Guignon and others have also made important arguments against the plan. Much of the science on groundwater, including the limits to how much water and flow a stream can lose and still maintain aquatic life, comes from other places.  That’s not to say the science is wrong, but this isn’t dryland farming with huge sections of land devoted exclusively to agriculture. There’s hardly a watershed here that doesn’t have to support businesses, people’s homes, and wildlife, and there’s a strong feeling that despite the jobs and farm income that comes from producing french fries, one can’t take precedence over the other.

And Guignon is especially insistent that irrigation can’t be used to make up for poor soil quality. Healthy soils with adequate organic matter absorb rain and hold it for dry periods. Beat up soils that are hard packed cause rain to run-off somewhere else, usually ditches and low points in fields,  taking much needed moisture and soil particles along with it.

And there’s no question that the potato industry is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to environmental promises.   Fishkills, nitrates in groundwater, dead zones in rivers,  don’t generate  a lot of confidence. It may be the sins of the few causing the punishment of the many,  but that’s just the way it is, and no amount of lobbying or political arm twisting is going to change that.