For Immediate Release - September 28, 2020
All three opposition party representatives opened their comments at Watershed 2020 with the statement ‘water is a human right’ for people today and to be guaranteed for future generations. In contrast Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks said ‘water is vital to quality of life’. This opening comment highlighted the difference between the approach to water protection of the Ford government and that of the parties in opposition.
Each of the political leaders
– Jeff Yurek (Minister ECP), Ian Arthur (NDP Environment critic), Lucille Collard (Liberal Environment critic) and Mike Schreiner, Green Party Leader had been provided with a list of ten question to address in a ten-minute opening speech to a convention of leaders of organizations involved in water protection. 263 people registered for the all-day convention held online as part of the People’s Water Campaign
Minister Yurek spoke to his party’s commitment to environmental protection while seeming to ignore the questions that had been submitted to him. One member of the audience said “the Minister missed an opportunity to speak to the interests of grassroots leaders and instead chose to read a briefing note.” Minister Yurek did promise to extend the moratorium on new permits to bottle water until April 1, 2021, repeating his government’s commitment to require municipalities to consent to new permits to take water for bottling in their jurisdiction.
Ian Arthur, NDP MPP for riding of Kingston and the Islands gave an intelligent and passionate presentation on the need to pass Bill 76, an Act to ensure that the laws of Ontario are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “This will change how we pass all legislation in Ontario, said Arthur, and enable us to have the hard conversations we need to have”. Arthur added, “There is a desperate need for better protections for the next seven generations.”
Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph and leader of Green Party of Ontario began his hard-hitting remarks by saying we “all have to do more to live up to our sacred duty to protect water”.
Schreiner suggested Minister Yurek “make permanent the moratorium on new permits to bottle water and that he apply the good parts of these regulations to all commercial and industrial water taking permits”. The Green Party leader pointed out a “glaring flaw in the regulations” stating that “First Nations should be able to have the same input and place the same restrictions on water taking permits as municipalities. Free, informed and prior consent should be part of the water taking permit process”.
In his comprehensive remarks the Guelph MPP said “we must overhaul the legislation that prioritizes aggregate extraction over other land uses such as protecting farmland, natural heritage, wetlands and the Greenbelt”, adding “dismantling the Environmental Assessment Act, along with fast tracking the GTA West 413 highway and changing the growth plan to facilitate sprawl as the government is doing right now not only threatens water recharge areas that are so vital to providing clean drinking water, but it also paves over the earth’s ability to absorb excess water from climate fueled storms that are leading to more severe floods”.
Lucille Collard the recently elected Liberal MPP from the riding of Ottawa-Vanier addressed all ten questions in comprehensive remarks. She agreed that Bill 76 is a concrete move towards reconciliation and said she looked forward to more discussion in the legislature. Collard stressed that “water protection is everybody’s business and I would like to see more collaboration with municipalities, communities and First Nations”.
All of the speakers commended the Wellington Water Watchers for ‘organizing such an important event’.
“I think the fact the government and all three opposition parties agreed to speak at Watershed 2020 confirms they know water protection is very important to people in Ontario”, said Rob Case, chairperson of Wellington Water Watchers, and moderator of the session. “We will continue to mobilize public opinion in support of these issues from now until the next provincial election and beyond”, added Case.
Watershed 2020 is the first annual convention of the People’s Water Campaign. The People’s Water Campaign is a broad-based campaign to restore environmental protections for water security and help build the movement for water justice in Ontario.