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Why Ontario extending a moratorium on new bottled-water-taking permits isn't enough

Photo by Brent Patterson

Why has the Ford government proposed extending a moratorium on new and increased permits to take bottled water in Ontario? This doesn't sound like the move of an "open for business" premier in the early months of his majority government's mandate.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario website: "We are proposing to extend the current moratorium on new or increasing permits to take groundwater to produce bottled water. This would extend the moratorium for up to one year, to January 1, 2020."

The Ministry further explains, "Extending the moratorium would give us time to complete the review of policies, programs and science used to manage water takings across the province, including groundwater takings for water bottling."

This "up to" one-year extension would extend former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's two-year pause on Nestlé's plan to extract 1.6 million litres of water a day from their Middlebrook well, which is set to end on January 1, 2019.

The advocacy group Wellington Water Watchers has rightly called on people to back this proposal, encouraging them to answer "yes" to this survey question on the Environmental Registry of Ontario website.

That survey question simply asks: "Do you support the proposal to extend the moratorium on water bottling permits by one year to complete the water quantity policy, program and science review?"

Water justice activists also recognize that this does not alter the situation in which Nestlé is allowed to take up to 3.6 million litres of water a day in Aberfoyle with a permit that expired on July 31, 2016 and up to 1.1 million litres a day in Hillsburgh on a permit that expired on August 31, 2017.

Nestlé's water-taking permit applications for Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh should have been posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario's website years ago. And there's been no evident movement on this since the Ford government was elected this past June.

During the election, the Ontario PCs do not appear to have issued a policy statement on the issue of bottled-water takings.

But an "open for business" party is ideologically predisposed to believe "water equals profit" rather than acknowledge that "water is life."

For example, the Toronto Star has previously reported that clients of the Ford family firm Deco Labels & Tag have included Nestlé Canada and Coca-Cola, two major industrial consumers of water.

The Globe and Mail has also reported that, "Nestlé Canada, which says it has done about $20,000 worth of business with Deco since 2007, got involved in the [City of Toronto's] bottle-ban debate after [Doug Ford's brother Rob] Ford became mayor."

So what's going on?

Does the website survey about an extended moratorium serve to distract public attention away from Nestlé continuing to pump millions of litres of water every day on expired permits?

Does Nestlé have no immediate plans to develop the Middlebrook well, thus making the moratorium an easy political gift from Nestlé to the Ford government?

Is there a backroom deal in the works that links to Ford's closed-door meeting with Xinyi Glass Holdings Limited, a company that wants to build a glass plant that would draw 1.6 million litres of water a day from wells not far from existing Nestlé operations?

With the Ontario government's survey closing on November 30, the answers to these questions may begin to unfold in December or early in 2019.

We should also be keeping watch on Ford government announcements that relate to water use, notably gravel pits, mining, and even fracking.

For more on this, please read Doreen Nicoll's rabble.ca blog, "Ontario should extend moratorium on new permits to take groundwater for bottling" and Emma Lui's blog, "Nestlé still pumping after Ontario water permit expired two years ago."

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Brent Patterson

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