EXTRAORDINARY! The Canadian Bottled Water Association
admits the tide of public opinion has turned

First in a series of weekly updates from Wellington Water Watchers on the campaign
to
Say No To Nestlé and phase out permits for commercial water bottling in Ontario.

In an April 10 op-ed in the Toronto Star, Elizabeth Griswold, executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, accused Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne of “regulatory assault.” Griswold complained that
“(W)hat has become apparent both in media and in social media is that the Wynne Liberals have …. entered the fray on the side of those who oppose the bottled water industry.”
 
Corporate opponents of advocacy campaigns rarely reveal their fear or acknowledge the achievements of the opposing grassroots movements. This remarkable public statement by the bottled water industry reveals that
  • The industry knows that a majority of the Ontario public wants to stop giving permits to bottle water.
  • The industry feels so threatened that it is going on a public offensive.
In doing so, the commercial bottlers make three false claims:
  • that the premier and minister of environment should not respond to public opinion
  • that Environment Minister Glen Murray “advocates for job losses”
  • that the campaign to protect water is too “emotional”
In each case, the conflict is between private corporations and the public good. Which side should the government choose?
 
Neutrality vs. the public will. Griswold complains that Premier Wynne and Minister Murray are not ‘impartial’:
“…. given that the environment ministry has demonstrated a bias against bottled water, what is the likelihood that that the same ministry is considering these policy questions objectively and fairly? ….  In the absence of a referee, or when the referee clearly favours one team over the other, how is fairness maintained?”
22,000 people responded to the environment ministry’s recent consultation – unmentioned by Griswold – on regulating water-taking permits. Recent polls show two-thirds of the public supports an end to new water-bottling permits (Council of Canadians, December 2016; Mainstreet Research, February 2017). Premier Wynne and Minister Murray are responding to public will; isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?
Plus, shouldn’t the minster of the environment and climate change FAVOUR protecting water resources? Or should the minister “referee” between those who profit from taking water and those who want it sustained for the long-term common good?
 
Jobs vs. the environment. After naming Wellington Water Watchers, Griswold complains,
“The group in question seeks to outlaw Nestlé Water in and around Guelph, and the entire bottled water industry in Ontario. They seek to unemploy about 350 Guelph and Wellington County residents, and several thousand others throughout Ontario. Strange that while Premier Wynne and her Economic Development Minister are travelling the world, trying to get companies to locate here and create jobs, her Environment Minister advocates for job losses.”
Climate change is forcing many difficult decisions upon our society. But corporate spokespeople claiming a false sympathy for workers’ jobs are trying to deflect public attention from their excessive profits – and from the environmental damage their industry causes.
  • Workers in the bottled water and other industries facing employment dislocations deserve real sympathy and support. As the climate crisis deepens, such dislocations will become more common. In fact, everyone who contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through work, consumption and travel will be required to adjust. We will all need employment and other support during this transition.
  • Accusing the minister of environment and groups like the Wellington Water Watchers of “advocating for job losses” is intentional misrepresentation. The environment minister’s job is to proactively encourage a transition towards ecologically sustainable industries and jobs.
  • Industries with a high carbon footprint, a low ratio of jobs to resources used, and that make products adding little value to society – industries like water bottling – will have to transition sooner than others. As the bottled water industry is phased out, its will workers require fair and just transition plans.
  • Is Nestlé’s concern for its workers sincere? Corporations often show little regard for employees until profits are threatened. Then they bring out workers as a kind of human shield to protect the industry from regulation. For corporations like Nestlé, the only consistent concern is the bottom line.
Emotions vs. ‘proof.’ Elizabeth Griswold’s statement is itself emotional. She uses terms like regulatory assault, claims a lack of fairness, and expresses shock(!). But the industry’s core emotion is undoubtedly fear – of losing outrageous profits made by selling a public resource that it obtained virtually for free.
Public and other advocates who protect water ARE emotional – because water is precious. It’s the source and sustenance of life; many people all over the world consider it sacred. Advocates are also emotional about plastic waste from the water-bottling industry that accumulates in landfills, the countryside, lakes and oceans. This pollution threatens marine life, wildlife and the food chain of every living being.
Bottled water is an emotional issue, a contest between opposing values: water for life vs. water for profit. Griswold complains that the dispute is “driven by politics” – but the use, management and control of water is necessarily political. It is an issue to be decided by political leaders listening to the public – not just self-interested corporations like Nestlé.
 
Good news for water watchers. Public support to stop giving permits to bottle water in Ontario is broad and growing. (See this recent Toronto Star editorial and statement by faith leaders: Water: A Sacred Gift.)

But it’s not over. While recent comments by Premier Wynne and Minister Murray are encouraging, they have not yet announced a policy to end water-bottling permits in Ontario.
The industry will continue trying to bully the government into retreating from its democratic responsibility to respect the will of the people and its duty to protect the environment. This industry has enormous private resources – money, lobbyists, advertising and more – to array against the public campaign to protect water.
Elizabeth Griswold is also secretary-general of the International Council of Bottled Water Associations. You can be sure she is telling its Canadian and international members that the front line in the campaign to end water extraction for bottling is in Ontario. Billions of dollars in corporate profits are at stake.
Griswold’s op-ed effectively announces a counter-offensive by the water bottling industry for the hearts and minds of the public. The industry intends to sway the political resolve of Premier Wynne and her government against our campaign to end permits to bottle water in Ontario and ensure public control of water.
 
Just as the previous Liberal government decided to close coal-powered generating plants to protect our air, it should end permits to extract water for bottling in order to protect our drinking water. Premier Wynne can be on the right side of history on this issue.
 
In this public David vs. corporate Goliath struggle, we need to grab our slingshots. Please send Premier Wynne this message: “Water is for Life, Not Profit. Announce a phase-out of permits to bottle water in Ontario.”
Every week for the next eight weeks, we will send an update on how you can support the campaign to Say No to Nestlé and end permits to take water for bottling in Ontario.
As a result of our requests to you in the last week, almost 1215 people sent that message to Premier Wynne. Our goal is to send an additional 785 emails in the next week. If you have not already emailed Premier Wynne you can email her now.
You exceeded our goal of raising $680 to pay for the software that allows us to copy local MPP’s when you send your email. You contributed $945. Thank you!!!
 
Spread the word. Take a few minutes now and send this link to people in your network. Ask them to also email the premier.
Finally, please donate to the Say No To Nestlé campaign. Nestlé and other water bottling corporations will devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop our campaign. We need your support now.
 
Next campaign bulletin: Monday May 1.

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