Nestlé opponents want to change the tide of public opinion

Read the full article by Mike Robinson. 


by Mike Robinson

ELORA – Opponents of Nestlé Waters bid to draw water from the Middlebrook area want to tap into the community’s spirit and financial generosity to solidify their case against the international company’s plan.

“Speak and we will be heard,” Peter Skoggard of Save Our Water said in front of a packed hall at the Elora Legion on Feb. 25 at a meeting held jointly by Wellington Water Waters and Save Our Water.

Displays around the hall illustrated past events and protests by Wellington Water Watchers and Save Our Water.

Speaking that night were Arlene Slocombe, Libby Carlaw, Jan Beveridge, Peter Skoggard, Ailsa Fullwood, Mike Nagy, and guest speaker Mike Balkwill.

Slocombe offered a territorial acknowledgement “for the lands upon which we stand.”

“Many of us in this modern culture I think could stand to learn a lot from the views held by the First Peoples who perceived us as caretakers of the lands and these life-giving waters,” said Slocombe. “Water is one of those things, that unlike a pair of jeans, perhaps shouldn’t be bought and sold on the world market, it holds a different place.”

Mike Nagy of Wellington Water Watchers considered attendance at the event a litmus test on the importance of the issue to the community.

“It is here that we have drawn the line in the sand,” Nagy stated. “It is here where corporate acquisitions and profiteering must stop. It is here in Elora, Salem, Inverhaugh, Fergus, Ariss, Alma, Ponsonby etc. where people are talking and taking a stand, saying too much is at risk and too much has already been taken in other places.”

Nagy added, “It is here that the tide is going to be turned, and Nestlé with their big tankers and endless production of waste … is going to learn what community pride, rural values and commitment to a healthy future really look like.”

He said, “we have a high quality technical submission to the province regarding the aquifer pump test – it’s been a tremendous undertaking.”

Nagy argued, “The fact that this is taking so long for the decision on the aquifer pump test speaks loudly on the influence you all have. They know that the eyes of the world are on us.”

He contended, “This is not just a regional or provincial story and it’s not just a Canadian story … this is an international story.”

Nagy stated, “Corporate greed and outdated laws have enabled our water to be pumped out at amazing rates and sold for massive profits worldwide, which has brought us to this small rural community.”

He said Nestlé has permits to extract 3.6 million litres/day from its well in Aberfoyle,  and another 1.1 million litres/day in Hillsburgh – and now wants another 1.5 million in Elora.

Nagy stressed “every drop that is taken from Middlebrook will leave here and not come back unless it is … in the form of plastic packaging.

“When something is marketed to us as being more convenient than literally turning on the tap … you know something is really crazy. Nothing is more convenient than turning on the tap,” he said. “It’s not just Centre Wellington that loses, the entire world loses with this deal.”

Nagy stated Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers have been working around the clock as close partners.

“We are telling the world that this madness stops here,” he said. “We are making it loud and clear that we are not letting Nestlé in the door in Elora.

“We want to be the first place to deny them … we want the citizens’ voice to be the voice that is heard … not a voice from Switzerland that does not care about this community.” He said it is important for people to speak up and to financially support this effort.

Guest speaker Mike Balkwill is a community organizer who spoke of previous campaigns he was involved in, in which communities fought and won.

One was the problem of mould in school portables in Peel Region, the second was a business in Brampton that proposed the build of an incinerator to burn radioactive waste.

In both cases, local efforts managed to politicize the issues, and were able to garner the results they wanted. In Peel Region it meant the costly replacement of the mould-ridden portables, while in Brampton the company application for the incinerator was denied.

He applauded the local groups for their efforts thus far in developing local expertise, but stressed the regulatory process is intended to sideline opponents.

“They care about (a particular issue) to the extent you are able to put pressure on them,” Balkwill stated. “Your job is not to convince Nestlé, the target is the government which can say ‘no’ to Nestlé.”

Balkwill added it is also important to personalize the campaign. He advocated sending the message to those in the provincial government that if they vote in favour of the well, they will not be re-elected to power.

He noted that Nestlé makes charitable donations within the local community.

“It may sound harsh, but if you want to send a message, don’t accept those charitable donations; say no to their money, say ‘you cannot bribe us.’”

He suggested if there are local groups with the ability to return the money, they could do so during a public meeting – “That would send a pretty powerful message.”

Ailsa Fullwood of Save Our Water said many of those in the room would describe themselves as reluctant activists.

“What has become absolutely clear to us … is that we need to stop the MOECC from granting Nestlé a permit to take water from the Grand River watershed. There is no other answer,” she said.

“For me the only real question is ‘what are we going to do about this?’ and how do we stop the permit from being issued?”

Fullwood stressed there is an element of truth to the phrase “democracy is not a spectator sport.”

She said the groups have had to become, if not experts, at least literate in the highly technical reports about aquifers and hydrogeology.

The groups are looking to raise $25,000 to hire a lawyer and a hydrologist to step up the campaign.

“While democracy may not be a spectator sport, it seems it is not an amateur sport either,” said Fullwood.

“We are going to need to hire professionals if we are going to play at all.”