Water is a public resource

Mike Schreiner
Leader Green Party of Ontario
Presentation to Guelph City Council
Monday, November 7, 2016

Check Content Against Delivery

Your worship Mayor Guthrie, members of Council and residents of Guelph, I appreciate the opportunity to provide my input on protecting our water.

I want to preface my comments by thanking Councillor Gordon for bringing forward a motion to initiate this conversation and Councillor Gibson for presenting an amended motion to obtain a unanimous Council vote.

I think it is important for Council to seek a unanimous vote when this issue comes back to Council in order to send the strongest possible message to the province.

Water is a public resource. And I believe governments at all levels have a sacred responsibility to manage water as a public trust, in the public interest and in a way that ensures everyone has a right to access clean drinking water.  

I want to be clear that I’m not here tonight to target one particular company. Rather, I’m here to encourage Council to make strong statement to the province to secure our long-term water supply. 

I believe the precautionary principle requires the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to take steps to protect and secure our water supply. 

For this reason, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors in Guelph to discuss water with residents. I can assure you that Guelph residents are quite knowledgeable about water issues and are deeply concerned about protecting our water. 

In the past two months alone, we have collected over 2,000 postcards at the door or on line in Guelph and in communities across the province asking the Minister to put water for communities first and to ensure that corporate users pay their fair share.

I believe Council has an especially important role to play in protecting our water. And I encourage you to add Council’s voice to these concerns. 

The best way to do this is by asking the province to fix Ontario’s broken water taking rules.

The province, specifically the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, is responsible for regulating our water and issuing water taking permits.

For over a decade, Ontario’s Environment Commissioner, citizen’s groups such as Wellington Water Watchers and even the Drummond Commission have expressed concerns with Ontario’s water taking rules and the province’s low water taking fees.

I want to commend this Council for continuing to fight for Guelph’s water in the ongoing negotiations challenging the province’s water taking permit granted to River Valley Development Corporation for its operation of the Dolime Quarry. I also want to thank Council for raising concerns about long-term water supply in 2007 and 2011 when Nestle applied for renewal of its Permit To Take Water in Aberfoyle.

Yet, the rules remain broken, and I encourage Council to keep pushing the province for change.

I encourage you to be very clear with the provincial government that provincial law must guarantee that drinking water for people and communities will have priority over all other users. Likewise, local water uses—such as for growing food—should have priority access over water bottling operations and quarries.

Also, commercial and industrial users of water should pay their fair share. It is unacceptable that corporations like Nestle pay only $3.71 per million litres. This covers 1.2% of the cost to administer provincial water programs. This, combined with bottle disposal and recycling costs, means that taxpayers—you and me— are essentially subsidizing provincial management of these programs. 

Water taking fees should be raised to cover the full cost of administering, planning and managing water resources. These fees should include a component to cover the costs for municipalities to research and plan for long-term water sustainability.

I look forward to working with you to put pressure on the province to protect Guelph’s water. 

Mike Schreiner