Potato board lobbying MLAs to lift deep-well moratorium

Teresa Wright
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Chris LeClair. FILE PHOTO

Board has hired premier’s former chief of staff to facilitate MLA meetings

The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms have hired a former chief of staff to the premier to facilitate lobby meetings with MLAs in an effort to lift the moratorium on deep-water irrigation wells.

Potato farmers are pushing for access to deep-water wells to supply their fields with water for supplemental irrigation.

They’ve hired Chris LeClair with the consulting firm Policy Intel Inc. to co-ordinate meetings with as many provincial MLAs as possible to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on irrigation wells. LeClair served as Premier Robert Ghiz’s chief of staff from 2003, when he was opposition leader, until just after the 2011 election.

Greg Donald, general manager for the P.E.I. Potato Board, said LeClair’s consulting firm is merely acting as a facilitator for the MLA meetings. The initiative itself is being led by the industry.

He said he did not have any concerns over LeClair’s previous involvement with the MLAs while working in the premier’s office.

“Quite frankly, he was helping us with setting up the meetings, as far as the logistics. Beyond that, this initiative has been ours, the Potato Board, and most certainly we have been working together for parts of it … with Cavendish (Farms) as well.”

Allowing farmers to drill deep-water wells for irrigation is a controversial idea that has some environmental groups raising serious concern over possible impacts on P.E.I.’s groundwater levels and potential for nitrate contamination.

But the P.E.I. Potato Board says it has scientific evidence showing the annual recharge rate for groundwater in P.E.I. is quite high and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use only a small fraction of available groundwater resources.

It’s this information they want to share with P.E.I.’s elected officials.

“We are making an effort to make sure the facts are told about P.E.I., our groundwater, our recharge rate, and what we’re being told by the experts is that there’s ample water to be used for supplemental irrigation,” Donald said.

“We want to make sure that, quite frankly, anybody that will listen, will (hear) the facts that we have about that, why and also about the resource in an effort to have the moratorium removed.”

But Opposition MLA Colin LaVie believes this is a conversation that should happen in front of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.

He sent a letter to the chair of the committee, asking for LeClair and former MLA Cynthia King, who is also working with Policy Intel on this initiative, to appear before the committee.

“These two individuals asked to make a presentation before the MLAs and I thought it would be a good conversation to happen in a public forum,” LaVie said in an interview Wednesday.

“Personally I have curiosity as to why these two would be selected given their relationship with the government, but hopefully they’ll put all the facts on the table for us. This is an important issue to many Islanders.”

Donald said some potato farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States. He stressed farmers would not push for this initiative if they believed it would harm P.E.I.’s groundwater.

“I know the industry doesn’t want it if it can’t be done responsibly,” Donald said.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board, Policy Intel, Standing Committee on Agriculture Intel

Geographic location: P.E.I., United States

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Recent comments

  • Just Wondering
    January 17, 2014 - 22:14

    The large potato growers, led by Cavendish Farms of course, say they need more irrigation in order to compete with Idaho, etc. where there is feet, not inches, of topsoil as well as a longer growing season. Instead of interfering with one of our most precious resources, water, why not start looking after the land, improving the organic matter so that the soil will hold moisture that falls naturally? Why do we need more potatoes? It seems to be that when there is a bumper crop the price usually is poor . Perhaps we should be looking at improving the soil and getting a marketing system in place before we start digging deep water wells. Only the large growers would be able to afford the irrigation equipment anyway so the smaller potato farmers will fade out of business. I guess it is easier for Cavendish Farms to deal with fewer growers anyway.

  • ALL FOR GREED
    January 16, 2014 - 14:09

    Anyone who says that this is not strictly for greed is either a potato farmer or a very naive person. There must be a kick back in there some where or regardless of how inept our Government is they would not deplete the drinkable ground water for higher profits for farmers and risk losing many many taxpayers who will move away to have drinking water for their children and grandchildren.. This beautiful Island is being turned into an undesireable place for retirement or a place to raise families due to this Government and their greedy friends that back them.

  • stop the fish kills, my kids want a drink
    January 16, 2014 - 13:11

    PEI needs to do the following ASAP: #1 ban every single pesticide. #2 ban all chemical fertilizers. #3 ban irrigation. #4 ban lobbyists for big agriculture. #5 make all sitting MLAs drink only the water from the ditches near potato fields while in office

  • candrayo
    January 16, 2014 - 13:04

    Mother Nature deserves respect, and so do Islanders….Farmers are going to lose even more respect than they have already over pesticides if they keep this up…..I smell a protest in the air!

  • Wayne MacKinnon
    January 16, 2014 - 12:46

    It is time for all Islanders to awaken, do their own research on the facts this decision will be based on. There is so much mis-information regarding the benefits of the potato industry to PEI's economy out there already. How can this industry contribute $1 billion to this small economy, when Stats Canada reports farm gate receipts at a little over $400 million per year. Has anyone assessed the health care costs resulting from the by products used with growing potatoes? We are the Cancer Capital of Canada. Irrigating potatoes will only cause these poisons to be returned to our water table in larger quantities and at a faster rate. The annual recharge rate on PEI could not possibly be the same in all areas of the province due to the different types of soils found in all parts of the Province. This is an excellent example of how the Spin Doctors misrepresent the facts to confuse Islanders on what is true and what is not.. Neil Young stepped up to expose the Tar Sands in Alberta, do we have any credible scientists here who is willing to stand up and present the real facts? Time will tell. Our body is made up of mostly water, we can live maybe 3 days without it, but cancer can take years to kill you. David Suzuki was here a few years ago talking about how interconnected our water table truly is. He is an independent scientist with out any financial gain in the potato industry here, his opinion should be objective.

  • Check it out
    January 16, 2014 - 12:15

    Connect the dots...Potato Marketing Board manager worked for Cavendish Farms for many years...Cavendish Farms wants irrigation and now Potato Board does too...Cavendish sells fertilizer and pesticides and fuel to farmers now with little competition...Cavendish sells irrigation equipment. I wonder if farmers will be forced to irrigate in order to have a processing contract and I wonder where they'll have to buy the irrigation equipment? What exactly is the definition of a chokehold? I hope journalists will ask questions. Why isn't Cavendish quoted in this story?

  • John Maclean
    January 16, 2014 - 12:13

    WHAT is fair about a potato industry benefiting the few at a cost of highest cancer rates for all? Change is never easy but the potato culture must face the facts of its harm. If you walk along a forest next to a potato field, you can see the dead birds. if you live close by, you'll also notice the ansence of bords singing in the mornings. How much propaganda will oslanders tolerate about the minimal harm of pesticides? Now, big potato farms want access to our deep water tables to imcrease production. It is shameful that officials who are elected to care for all of us too often do not. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

  • Quiet Observer
    January 16, 2014 - 10:40

    It is time that a few narrow minded Islanders stop ignoring facts and using fear mo0ngering to beat up on a potato industry that while being the mainstay to the PEI economy, is struggling to remain profitable. And yes, profit is not a bad word. It is a good word because that means that they can make a living at what they do. They have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their farms and deserve to be able to pay their debts and feed their families. Shut down the potato industry on PEI and you essentially shut down PEI. Everyone would feel it (except maybe federal civil servants). Let's deal with fact - according to government study, PEI right now only uses 7% of its deep ground water. It can also use up to 50% of this deep ground water safely because PEI replenishes its deep groundwater at a very high rate. Also fact that deep water wells pose no threat to water contamination. Stop the scare mongering by pretending that all our groundwater is contaminated. This is an outright lie. If the strength of your arguments against the deep water wells is based on fear mongering, exaggerations and lies, then how much credibility do you have. I hope this government is wise enough to let sound science and facts decide this issue, not fear mongering by uneducated drama queens/kings.

    • UPWESTER
      January 16, 2014 - 12:46

      Fear moOngering(sic) is what you are practising. You have no more idea whether the "science" is correct or not. I can go and get 5 scientists and pay them and they will say that it is not sustainable. You are just a shill for the big processors. It is only them and a few corporate farms are demanding the moratorium be lifted.

    • A scholar and a gentleman
      January 16, 2014 - 13:40

      Finally, a voice of reason to cut through the fear, uncertainty, and doubt spewed forth by those with a political agenda (right Teresa?). If only more people would unburden themselves of their ignorance and research the details instead of spouting insipid comments based on their limited understanding of the facts.

  • romeo
    January 16, 2014 - 10:23

    Every year I hear about a fish kill caused after a heavy rain tgat washed pesticides into a stream or river. Won't more watering cause a constant "rinsing" of the fields thus putting a continuous stream of pesticides into streams and rivers. With slow moving water won't. The pesticides have more time to soak into our ground water?

  • Peter
    January 16, 2014 - 10:01

    Who is paying for Policy Intel Inc. ? A service totally unneeded, with the Minister of Agriculture being part of the potato industry (unacceptable conflict of interest ofcourse, but obviously accepted of all those who voted Ghiz in the second time) ) there was no fear that the farmers would not get their demands met. They demanded HST, increased acreage allowance and now the ground water depletion, they succeeded in the first two, no reason to think they would not get this one. The current liberal government govern for the well to do, - their demands have top priority. That the two liberal 'consultants' got this bone to gnaw, was simply a way to keep them well fed.

  • Concerned citizen
    January 16, 2014 - 09:40

    I do not think it is fair to this gentleman to be instantly judged. Obviously, Mr. Leclair is a well educated and experienced person. Take your political minds out of the gutter and stop the jealousy! It will get you nowhere! Show some intelligence of your own, if you can!

    • UPWESTER
      January 16, 2014 - 12:40

      Get your head out of the sand. He was hired because of his connections to Ghiz and the Liberal party. LeClair has no more expertise on deep water wells than you or I. It is his connections to Ghiz that counts.

  • L'intérêt Personnel Sale
    January 16, 2014 - 08:54

    Potato Board, Chris LeClair, Cynthia King + Robert Ghiz. Do Islanders who follow politics really require anything else to predict where this is going?

  • Lloyd Kerry
    January 16, 2014 - 08:26

    Premier Ghiz and Wes Sheridan continually harp on how broke we are, yet they hire a former political hack to facilitate meetings on this subject. Seriously?? Couldn't they just use a competent department of Agriculture employee to do this? And how much is it costing?

    • A former Ag. Canada employee
      January 16, 2014 - 12:58

      Are we posting this from a work computer Lloyd? Or are you using one of your innumerable sick days as a federal government employee?

  • Just Saying
    January 16, 2014 - 07:54

    The potato farmers and the potato industry on PEI needs to accept reality. They are never going to be even close to competitive with the large scale farms in the states. I can't speak for the farmers themselves, but the industry definitely places profit as a greater priority than the environment. Deep water wells are a last gasp attempt to stay profitable in a dying industry.

  • Rice
    January 16, 2014 - 07:43

    Why wouldn't we believe the potato growers. After all what have they ever done to damage our the quality of our ground waters and surface waters.

  • matt kenny
    January 16, 2014 - 06:23

    We have to keep up with the farmer's in mid west USA; who, as it turns out are also dealing with a looming water crisis. Potatoe farmer's have had a string of great harvest's, but good is not good enough. Greed is a powerful thing, and this will be pushed through by Ghiz's former chief of staff. Who is doing the lobbying for the rest of Islanders that rely on well's for their drinking water, and for the plant's and animals living in our already infringed upon watershed's.

  • Crap
    January 16, 2014 - 05:16

    Guess we can all drink Bottled water. Ground water has so much runoff from potato fields its not safe to drink anyhow.

  • don
    January 16, 2014 - 04:46

    Chris LeClair tell me what is more important drinking water or water for the fields that is used during the day time the most dumbest time of day to water and how many streams has been drained because of farmers? if the farmers wants to water the fields then USE the water they have to use in there homes. if they dare.