March 1st, 2014

From the very impressive front page article in yesterday’s Guardian:

Headline:“We can’t afford the risk of being wrong.”

Caption: “Front, from left, Boyd Allen, Catherine O’Brien, and Don Mazer of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water make a case against lifting the moratorium on deep-well irrigation to a provincial standing committee Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.”  Guardian photo by Heather Taweel, I think, who was allowed to take photos (unlike the mere spectators).  The rest of you know who you are, including the couple of P.E.I. Potato Board people in the back row  😉

And the articulate Rob MacLean, son of former Premier Angus MacLean, closes the front section in Friday’s Guardian:

Government must build trust on deep-water well issue
Record on complying with regulation is not good if one considers the Crop Rotation Act
Letter of the Day

Before we discuss deep-water wells, we need to face our record on the Crop Rotation Act.
Thatʼs the 2002 law which mandates a three-year crop rotation in potatoes. This is our history, itʼs where promises meet performance and the record is not good.
About a quarter of potato operations are in violation of the act. This is a big reason people donʼt trust government to regulate the industry. It didnʼt have to be this way.
Imagine what the public atmosphere would be like if, instead of only 75 per cent of potato operations complying with the act, we were close to 100 per cent compliance. What if, instead of our soil organic matter getting worse province-wide, it was holding steady or even improving? What if the potato industry could point to those accomplishments? What if the government could say, “You can trust us to regulate wells because of how well weʼve regulated crop rotations?”
If that was the situation, people would still be cautious, they would still want to proceed slowly, if at all, but they would also appreciate farmersʼ efforts to take care of the soil and they would be more inclined to believe governmentʼs assurances.
As it is, the two camps on this question have very little basis for trust. Comprehensive science is only part of the solution. There was a time when science told us there were plenty of cod in the sea and plenty of big trees on the land. The scientists were right, but we mismanaged those stocks and now theyʼre gone.
Regardless of how much water is under our feet, it will be possible to ruin that resource too. Whatever policy we arrive at regarding deep-water wells will have impressive language around regulation, but those words will be empty if we canʼt trust the regulator to enforce them.
Itʼs up to government to build trust, and what they need to do is take strong action on the Crop Rotation Act. Until they do, the old saying applies, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Rob MacLean,


Happy March!

I have been meaning to dig up and go through Horace Carver’s Report of the Commission on the Lands Protection Act, especially since at the end of March, Mr. Carver is speaking to the March 27th Thursday meeting of the very same Standing Committee of Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry; and I think there may be legislation in the spring sitting of the Legislature, which begins in April.  There are 29 recommendations, so with some background and perhaps a day off for reader-fatigue, let’s march ahead.

To recap (and my errors are my own), Horace Carver is a Charlottetown lawyer, background here:
who was a Conservative MLA from 1978 to 1986, during which time Alex Campbell, Bennett Campbell, Angus MacLean, and James Lea were Premier.

He represented PEI in the Constitutional talks in 1981.  He fought for the right for PEI not to be guided under property rights guaranteed at the federal level and have the right to a provincial Lands Protection Act, and worked drafting the first LPA in the 1980s.

Carver was appointed in November 2012, when Plan B was just getting cleared and bulldozed, and in early 2013 started consultations.  He set the bar high as far as reaching out, appearing in the media often and having several public events, and then basically doing a whistle-stop tour of the Island (if we wistfully still had trains), making sure to reschedule meetings due to bad weather, and have lots of info on the website.

The sessions, as you may remember, were long and he pretty much let people talk.  Then he scooped up all his papers in May and his small staff and wrote his report, submitting it a day before the deadline in late June.  It languished a bit (out of his hands) and was finally released in late Fall.

OK, more tomorrow on it.

February 1st, 2014

The concerns about lifting a ban on high capacity wells keeps pouring into our public forums.  The papers are full of excellent letters practically each day.   It would seem incredibly un-smart if a government didn’t pay attention to the tenor of public opinion as exemplified in our dear GuardianJournal-Pioneer,and Graphics.  Unfortunately, as with Plan B, government appears either not paying attention to this legitimate mode of public communication**,  or purposing downplaying people’s opinions.
**in what seemed like a bit of a Sarah Palin moment, my MLA admitted last year that she often didn’t read the paper.

Your letters definitely get the *public* thinking.

The Guardian

The Eastern (and West Prince) Graphic
The Journal-Pioneer

On last night’s CBC Compass, reporter John Jeffery went to the Federation of Agriculture annual general meeting and summarized it pretty well, with his story about 6:20 into the broadcast.
The membership heard from Bruce Raymond of the Department of the Environment who was on CBC Radio early Thursday, saying The Science says there is plenty of water if we stay within the policy.

The Department of the Environment (to their credit) Friday placed what is likely Mr. Raymond’s powerpoint presentation on this page.  The second choice has the “slides” with additional background information, and the third is the actual policy.  (Just a note that a policy is not the same as legislated “Water Act”, a related issue.)
If you have time to poke around in it this weekend.

The Federation did not make any sort of public statement on the issue of high capacity wells.

Agriculture Minister George Webster did say, “Don’t look at your own farm gate. Look at the Big Picture.”  A statement most would agree with.

From Rob MacLean, blueberry farmer, among other things, of Lewes:

No reason yet to trust industry
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 29, 2014

If governments and the potato industry havenʼt gotten soil conservation right, why should we believe theyʼre competent to manage our common water supply?
Science is very clear that minimizing erosion by maintaining soil organic matter of at least three percent is what we should do and that a crop rotation of at least three years is the way to do it. We canʼt plead ignorance. For decades, weʼve had commissions, round tables, teaching sessions and grants encouraging this goal.
In 2002, we even passed a law mandating crop rotations. The governmentʼs own website says one purpose of the Crop Rotation Act is “to maintain and improve ground and surface water quality . . .” So, how are we doing?
According to the Report of the Commission on the Lands Protection Act (p.28), from about 2001 to 2008 organic matter dropped Island-wide. At the start of the period, roughly two-thirds of the samples met the minimum level of three per cent. By 2008, only half were making the grade. Thatʼs not all. The same report (page 28 again) says fully one in four potato farms are not in compliance with the Crop Rotation Act. In other words, theyʼre breaking the law.
Historically, governments have been reluctant to prosecute offenders under the Crop Rotation Act. Maybe it seems like piling on to someone who already has plenty of troubles. Whatever the reason, going easy on offenders has the unintended consequence of discrediting the entire potato industry in the eyes of the public.
Learning the science of the water under our feet is just the beginning of the deep-well conversation. Our history with soil conservation proves that we have a lot to learn about putting environmental knowledge into practice. Until we do, thereʼs no reason to believe the potato industry can be trusted with our water.
Rob MacLean,