Irving delivers ultimatum on deep-water wells?

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Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving, left, and Blaine MacPherson, company vice president of agricultural affairs, speak before a committee of MLAs probing the issue of high capacity wells. Irving says his company may be forced to look for potatoes elsewhere if P.E.I. does not lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells.

Cavendish Farms threatens cutbacks unless government ends moratorium

If Prince Edward Islanders and its government had any doubts beforehand, they were erased Thursday inside the Coles Building. In the shadow of historic Province House in the heart of urban Charlottetown, a blunt warning was issued that could have dramatic ramifications across rural P.E.I.  

Two senior executives for Cavendish Farms told a legislative committee that the company may downsize its operations in P.E.I. if the government does not lift a moratorium on deep-water wells. It has taken a while for the company to finally lay its cards on the table, but there they were last Thursday for all to see.

Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving might have wished it hadn’t come to this, but the company is apparently frustrated and its patience running out while waiting for a decision on the wells issue. Ever since the P.E.I Potato Board first approached government in late 2012, it was believed that Cavendish Farms was the driving force behind the request to lift the decade-long moratorium.

As the news circulated, the vast majority of Islanders seem opposed, based on countless letters and opinion page submissions to this newspaper. They warned that lifting the moratorium would threaten the Island’s water supply, which is solely dependent on the groundwater table.

The Potato Board tried its best to convince Islanders that only a very small percentage of the water supply would be tapped and the annual recharge would more than adequately sustain any increased pressure.

The board then was forced to defend itself against mounting criticism of spraying, trying to justify that careful application of pesticides was essential to produce a healthy crop. Potato growers are facing relentless pressure on all sides — from processors to produce the perfect french fry potato through irrigation and pesticides use — and from Islanders opposed to both. Growers argue that if they don’t spray for weeds, blight or the Colorado potato beetle, they won’t have a crop.

So what has pushed Mr. Irving to take a threatening and bullying posture in front of MLAs on the agriculture standing committee, which had earlier recommended no changes pending presentation of  compelling evidence or argument.

The company has done well financially by P.E.I. and vice versa. It has contracts for some 60 per cent of Island potato production and has a stranglehold on fertilizer sales.

First and foremost, the Irvings are shrewd businessmen. With them, it’s always business. If they cannot get their potatoes at a certain price and guaranteed quality here, they will get them somewhere else. That philosophy dictates company policy, not the loyalties of yesterday.

The Irvings want to know where the P.E.I. government stands — with them or against them. The threat of downsizing must be taken seriously. This is a $1-billion industry in play here.

Do opponents of wells and pesticides think such an enormous loss of revenue can ever be replaced?

This year, Cavendish Farms forced its contract growers to accept a three per cent reduction in price, despite higher costs for fertilizer, diesel and everything else. Was this a signal to government and industry that the company intends to play hardball from now on unless there are concessions on the well issue?

The potato board is desperately trying to find a solution and has suggested getting an independent group to assess the water supply issue and provide irrefutable scientific proof that limited deep-water wells are sustainable. It might be enough to placate Mr. Irving and keep everyone in business.

If not, the government may be forced to decide what’s more important — science supporting the well issue or potato processing supporting the basic economic structure of this province.



Bill McGuire Editorial Page / Opinion Page Editor The Guardian Charlottetown (902) 629-6000 ext. 6051 (office) (902 218-3327 (cellular) (902) 566-3808 (fax) E-mail:

Organizations: Coles Building, Province House, P.E.I Potato Board

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown, Iceland Colorado

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Recent comments

  • Cynthia Joan Morrison
    August 14, 2014 - 21:03

    Can you say DROUGHT? from Climate Change

  • Former Farmers now Land Rapers
    July 04, 2014 - 08:47

    Irvings go back home before you destroy 'Our Island' like you destroyed Saint John, N.B. !!!

  • Banakonda Kennedy-Kish Bell
    July 01, 2014 - 16:35

    They will deplete and poison ground water and then leave anyway. Suffer now and still have water or suffer later more deeply because you will have lost clean water. Know water, know life, No water, No life.

  • Mrs. Monica Lewis
    June 27, 2014 - 19:24

    Seriously, could this be called anything else than BLACKMAIL!?

  • Garth Matthews
    June 20, 2014 - 11:47

    If this government or any other government wants to get re-elected now or in the future, they better start listening to the people. The people are tired of large corporations like the Irving running the island to fill their pockets and the pockets of potato farmers. The people are tired of friends or family members dying from cancer or lung disease. I say cut pesticide use in half for now and give some incentives to farmers to switch to organic farming with a goal of being totally organic in 20 years. If Mr. Irving doesn't like that then that's too bad. We can use that $5 million dollars that Harper just gave us to have a huge going away party for the Irvings......Now that's worth celebrating !

  • Leslie J. Chandler
    June 20, 2014 - 10:55

    As I citizen of New Brunswick, I can tell you categorically that I live in a 'captured' state. We were naive enough to think that we were only a 'client' state due to economic and political pressure exerted by the Irving media/industrial complex. However, due to the insight provided by Mr. Don Bowser recently and specifically, (although not solely) related to control of New Brunswick forests, we have realized that we are, in fact, a CAPTURED population to the Irving corporate interest. Don Bowser is N.B. born, educated at Acadia, and an international expert in transparency, anti-corruption and corporate criminality. He heads up I.M.P.A.C.T. and he teaches at St. Mary's. He has recently returned to the Maritimes in large part to examine these issues from a professional standpoint and he has a fascinating cv; he may be very interested in examining this issue of water rights/access on Prince Edward Island. We also feel that it is now or never in N.B. with the Irving media/industrial complex. We have a critically important provincial election upcoming in September. Our job as voters in New Brunswick is to usher the Irvings OUT of the legislature, if you will, where they have become increasingly welcomed and comfortable over the last 30 to 40 years.I would like to suggest two video productions which have been produced in N.B. in the last 3 or 4 months which could provide further insight into the damage inflicted in our region by unbridled greed. One is the work of videographer, Charles Theriault, and the other is a 21 minute video produced by the N.B. Geen Party called, A Priceless Trust - Betrayed - also on the forestry situation in N.B. I really laud all the voices I have read here. Follow up your letters with visits to your elected officials, especially the Premier and finance minister. Research everywhere consistently shows a tremendously greater number of jobs are created through sustainable practice and diversification. You cannot trade on water. We are having the same discussion in N.B. on shale gas exploration and development, which the Irvings, not surprisingly, also have a steak in. I have every faith that Prince Edward Islanders will collectively choose an ecologically sustainable path and enjoy the many, many benefits this choice will provide. Best wishes and stand firm, united. Leslie J. Chandler, Moncton

    • Kevin Matthews
      June 20, 2014 - 15:52

      Leslie, As far as videos on the Irvings go, have a look at Forbidden Forest which is a more insightful feature length documentary which I produced with the Nature of Things and the NFB. PS we been a feudal state in NB since the founding of the province, the landless peasants in PEI ended their feudalism in the late 1800's by rising up and seizing the land, but now with the Irvings they are slowly being forced back into a feudal structure.

  • Bill Burden
    June 18, 2014 - 23:58

    There is no love lost between me and Cavendish Farms, having worked for them for 5 years back in the 1980's and say first hand how they operate their business. I remember seeing, then PEI Environment Minister, Gilbert Clements wilt under the pressure from the powerful Irvings when he tried to dictate policy, so where is comes to Government decisions, it is always about jobs and the economy. Why not let science dictate the decision and lift the moratorium on deep-water wells only as long as it is PROVEN to be sustainable. That may prove to be difficult as the Irvings are very adept at stretching boundaries like the historical limits on their production acreage.

  • James Reeves
    June 18, 2014 - 21:57

    I like the news artical, The Irving family are nothing more than greedy corp criminals. PEI has tourist that they could increase those revenue dollars many thousands a day. Farmers could grow hemp, pot anything but Irving dollar bills dump Irving family and their corp greed whole family is worthless. An Ontario view as a PEI visitor could do with out that self centered greedy family . James Reeves

  • Rosemary
    June 18, 2014 - 14:44

    Since when do islanders cave in against blackmail. We did alright before cavendish farm. We the people have to have a say in how our water is used.

  • Barbara Perry
    June 18, 2014 - 13:11

    The Irving's are a wonderful family group of businesses that has provided jobs to Islanders for as long as most of us can remember. How dare we little citizens of PEI consider going against their wishes and that of all great profit machines. How dare we want healthy drinking water for ourselves and an environment free of pesticides. We have no choice but to continue on this path since, as Islanders, we are unable to think with enough foresight to plan for a healthy future for our children. So be it, our children will become sicker, our children will have more cancer. What choice do we have. Is it not more important that a few hundred or a few thousand farmers make livings from our red soil -- not enough of a living for them to ever get out of debt by the way, since they continue to purchase machinery with bank loans that would take the average person a life time to pay off. They have no choice, industry requires bigger crops. So the farmers are slaves to the system as are the rest of us. Perhaps in some fantasy land in our imaginations there is a place where governments would take a leadership role in developing a more sustainable environment and water and food supply. How I would love to know that place. We could send out representatives to gather information to take back to us from that Neverland and then implement plans. I have heard that there are places all over Europe where organic is the norm, but perhaps that is just a tale from by-gone-years. So what does it come down to ...individuals making tough choices about where their food supply comes from ... about when is enough 'stuff' ever enough ...about using our votes to tell those in power what the majority of Islanders demand. But the Irvings demand too. Enough ranting from middle aged woman, I'm tired now. I better get back out to planting my garden.

  • Ingrid MacLeod
    June 18, 2014 - 11:55

    I say, send the Irvings packing, we don't need their business. They are ruining our Island with their potatoes and pestisides. They come to the Island with their minimum wage jobs and try to bully us. Our water table is more important than adding more pesticides to our water and soil. We have one of the highest rates of cancer in Canada on the Island. They take government / taxpayers money in order to expand their operations and instead of hiring people they go automated. They have cut jobs at Cavendish Farms and the have the farmers on PEI at their mercy. I say it's time for them to go. Robert Ghiz don't let them bully you any more instead stand up for the Islanders who voted you in.

  • XComa
    June 18, 2014 - 11:51

    Is that how Irving wants to play, I see. Not that means much, but will no longer purchase anything that Irving has a hand in. I will convince everyone I Work with and Talk to do the same. Too Big to Fail, nonsense.

    • Poolie
      June 18, 2014 - 12:54

      I agree, bullying is not the answer, hopefully there is a more environmentally friendly french fry company out there willing to pick up the business lost.

  • Mike Kays
    June 18, 2014 - 10:15

    Farming on the Island is killing us as it is. I think it's time we use that land in NEW poison-free ways. Maybe it's time to stop farming on PEI, and think about our health for once!! FOR ONCE!

  • Gillis
    June 18, 2014 - 07:09

    Take a stand PEI, This is an opprotunity for change Never Ever give in to someone with an ultimatum .

  • Mary Noel
    June 18, 2014 - 06:06

    Bullying and extortion are just plain wrong! Why does this have to be a this or that situation? I urge our leaders to think big - we don't need to depend solely on the potato crop for our economic well-being. Succumbing to the Irvings' threats would be lazy thinking, based on fear. We have fertile land here - it's time to start planting and selling other more needed crops. Diversify - then threats won't have any effect. Start planning and and planting now to deflect any future threats from any other corporate 'big-wigs'! Mary Noel

  • Willie Wonka
    June 17, 2014 - 12:07

    The fact is that when deep water well are drilled in a porous substrate near saltwater and pumps are utilized to create a negative pressure deep below the surface then the aquifer will begin to permanently fill up with -----you guessed it----SALTWATER!

  • Darcie Lanthier
    June 17, 2014 - 10:38

    "This year, Cavendish Farms forced its contract growers to accept a three per cent reduction in price, despite higher costs for fertilizer, diesel and everything else. " So the Irvings, owners of the company store, increase their prices while cutting the pay of Potato Producers. We would all be better off without them.

  • townie22
    June 17, 2014 - 07:55

    here we go again with the Irving's. we need more land (above the allowable amount), we need interest free loans, we need to use pesticides, etc., or we're going to close the plant or lay-off workers. seems they have the art of blackmail down to a science.

  • Just How It Is
    June 17, 2014 - 06:22

    ISLANDERS WON'T ALLOW THEM TO TAKE OUR WATER! When Islanders get together to help someone out they help out big time. When Islanders party they party hardy. When we are together on something we make things happen. The very Island itself needs our help right now and I believe Islanders will come to its rescue. The Irvings have no right to even ask for our water. They are being bullies. Our water is precious and we will protect it.

  • Just How It Is
    June 17, 2014 - 06:20

    ISLANDERS WON'T ALLOW THIS. We will rally together and stand up to this industry and we will show them what we are truly made of. We can be a bit of a pushover with smaller things but this is big. I know this because when Islanders get together to help someone out they help out big time. When Islanders party they party hardy. When we are together on something we make things happen. The very Island itself needs our help right now and I believe Islanders will come to its rescue. The Irvings have no right to even ask for our water. They are being bullies. Our water is precious and we will protect it.

  • Serious Reader
    June 17, 2014 - 06:17

    Mr Irving - I'd like to remind you that your businesses are consumer based and PEI can very quickly choose not to buy/use your be careful who you threaten.

  • kent
    June 16, 2014 - 21:46

    If Ghiz HAD a spine, we would not be talking here today, - it would be a dead issue, - NO Wells---

  • Matt
    June 16, 2014 - 19:29

    Why don't the Irvings just run for politics? They own the farmers, the fertilizer, the fuel; they may as well make it a true dictatorship. Our democracy is threatened when one corporation can hold so much power over our resources. You just tell us what laws work for you Mr. Irving and which ones don't. We'll change them for you because you are special.

    • Willie Wonka
      June 17, 2014 - 10:04

      Like in New Brunswick when you can control the politics from the sidelines then there is no need to 'run' for office. It is more financially rewarding to be the 'boss' than one of the workees! Ten more years and they will totally control PEI! If it wasn't for the CRTC they would also own this newspaper. In NB they own all of them except for the Sackville Tribune Post which gives them amazing powers for brain washing. So much for democracy!

  • rumour mill
    June 16, 2014 - 18:08

    Rumour has it that Irving plans to truck in drinkable water to PEI 10 years from now, for the residents to buy. Could this be their long term plan?

  • Don't Sell Us Out
    June 16, 2014 - 17:43

    This is one time that our government can't be allowed to sell PEI out . Our water supply is the most important thing's we still have here and shouldn't be on the table for any price . It belongs to us and all generations coming behind us . We must stand up to anyone that threatens it in any way . The Irving's made money in the past as I'm sure they still are doing today . They will not walk away & if they do , someone else will replace them . The Irving's are more dependent on Islanders spending money in their other businesses to taking the chance of pissing off Islanders & the Island government to the extent of loans - grants being shut down & given to their competition . Make it clear & take water off the table . It's ours & is not to be played with at any cost .

  • SomeSense
    June 16, 2014 - 16:01

    They are not intereseted in the farmers getting better yields. There is no need for these deep wells. If they cant do business here the way it is let them leave

  • Peter
    June 16, 2014 - 15:49

    IMO, if PEI doesn't stand up to the Irvings and call their bluff, PEI is doomed. Irving's do too well from PEI to even tnink about pulling out, and this should be seen as a bullying/scare tactic to get it's own way. I sincerely hope Ghiz has the spine to stand up to the Irvings, as his Dad would have done.

    June 16, 2014 - 15:03

    Now or never is the time for our Government and people of this province to stand up to these Billionaires that could care less about the people or land. The almighty dollar is supreme with these people. If you do not stand up against threats now then you might as well change the name from Prince Edward Island to Roberts Land .