Dave Rogers, With files from April Lindgren
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
CREDIT: Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen

McGuinty would cancel OMYA ruling
Ontario Liberal leader wants moratorium on more water-taking
Ontario Environment Minister Chris Stockwell announced Friday he was overruling an environmental tribunal and allowing OMYA to take 4.5 million litres of water a day from the Tay River.

Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Liberal leader, said yesterday he would reverse the Conservative government's decision to allow OMYA Canada Inc. to triple the amount of water it takes from the Tay River near Perth and ban similar water-taking until there is scientific evidence to support it.

Mr. McGuinty said Ontario Environment Minister Chris Stockwell's decision to allow the Swiss multinational to increase its water-taking to 4.5 million litres a day from 1.5 million litres amounts to a government subsidy, because the company will get its water for free.

"We will declare an immediate moratorium on the issuing of new water-taking permits so we can review Ontario's water supplies," Mr. McGuinty said.

"Only when we are absolutely certain we have enough water for our own province's needs will we issue new permits. And we would make companies that want to bottle or export our water pay for this precious resource."

Mr. McGuinty said a Liberal government could, if it takes power after a provincial election expected as early as the spring, rescind OMYA's water-taking permit. He said the government was wrong to give the water away, bypass an Ontario Divisional Court hearing on the issue and allow an increase in the water-taking without knowing what impact it will have on the environment.

"We need a moratorium on all new permits until we conduct an audit to find out how much water we have to spare," Mr. McGuinty said. "If we conclude we do have water to spare, then we should be selling it.

"You can't pull up a truck in Ontario and chop down our trees or remove minerals from the ground without paying for them. You shouldn't be allowed to remove our water and not pay for it."

OMYA mixes water with crushed calcium carbonate to produce a slurry the consistency of mustard that is shipped throughout North America to produce quality paper, paint, wallboard, toothpaste, antacids and calcium supplements.

Mr. McGuinty said OMYA adds water to calcium carbonate quarried north of Perth because the water costs the company nothing. He said the proceeds from water sales could be used to test Ontario water and determine how much is available for private use. He added he was surprised that Mr. Stockwell had relied on water flow measured in 1926.

"This is not that business's water -- it is everybody's water and we all have an interest in it," Mr. McGuinty said. "That is the same amount of water that the Town of Perth is drawing from the river daily.

"I think we should take the time to make sure we are making the right decision. It strikes me as patently absurd that the minister would rely on water level information that predates the Second World War. The best evidence would come from measuring what is happening in that river, and if it takes a year to do it, so be it."

Mr. McGuinty said Mr. Stockwell's decision is another example of the provincial government bypassing due process and interfering with the wishes of a community.

He said it appeared the government was helping its friends without giving Perth-area residents a fair hearing.

Former Kanata mayor Marianne Wilkinson, the Liberal candidate in Lanark-Carleton, said the water permit will harm the river.

"It's going to be a devastating blow to the local environment, impacting on lake levels, fish spawning grounds and water for the Rideau Canal system, and there's a real risk of drying up the river," Ms. Wilkinson said. "Three times the number of trucks -- 600 per day -- will be moving the material more than 30 kilometres from the quarry site through communities to the plant."

Michael Cassidy, a former Ottawa Centre NDP MP and provincial party leader who has a cabin near the OMYA quarry, said people who live in Lanark or near Highway 511 will have to cope with one truck every three minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

"If they process the maximum amount of calcium carbonate, the effect of the trucks would be devastating on every other activity in North Lanark, particularly in the village of Lanark where Highway 511 is the main street," Mr. Cassidy said. "The maximum production is seven or eight million tonnes of calcium carbonate a year.

"That means 100,000 round trips by trucks each day and 500 to 600 trucks daily on the highway, 24 hours a day."

OMYA president Olivier Chatillon said there was plenty of evidence from the beginning to justify the company's application.

"Our opponents never provided any experts who contradicted our experts," Mr. Chatillon said. "The conclusion of all experts is that we will have a negligible impact on the river and its environment.

"I am relieved that we are at the end of a long process. The minister's decision gives us some room to forecast our growth. I think it is good news for Perth, the employees and the company."

Mr. Chatillon disagreed that the water permit amounted to a government subsidy to OMYA. He said only municipalities and home water users pay for water in Canada.

Diana Arajs, an aide to Environment Minister Chris Stockwell, said again yesterday the minister will not comment on his decision because it could be subject to a judicial review.

"It is my understanding that any of the parties involved, if they wish to, can appeal," she said, noting that groups in a position to challenge the ministerial ruling include the Council of Canadians and a citizens' group represented by the Canadian Environmental Law Association.