It was standing room only at city council last night as council debated a motion by Ward 2 Councillor James Gordon asking his fellow councillors on taking a stand against Nestle and their continued water taking at their Aberfoyle bottling plant. Now city council is often compared to a carnival, but there was no denying the carnival atmosphere prior to the meeting as hundreds of people gathered in front of City Hall to sing, speak and make noise, all to push council to support Gordon and his motion.
Once inside the council and the actual debate was underway, councillors expressed hesitancy on a couple of points in Gordon's notice of motion; some didn't want to explicitly name Nestle in the motion, while others wanted to wait for a staff report on the matter before proceeding to the full debate on the issue, including hearing from public delegations.
Deputy CAO Scott Stewart told council that there's a "placeholder" right now at the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise portion of the Committee of the Whole meeting on November 7 to discuss a staff report response to Nestle's permit renewal. For the councillors seeking technical feedback, this seemed like the place to hear delegations on Gordon's motion. However, Stewart noted that if the Environmental Registry process isn't called before November 7, then the presentation of the report will be moved. Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury said that waiting for the Province of Ontario to call the EPR, now four months after the previous permit expired, is like, "trying to hit a moving target." Gordon agreed saying, "We're tying ourselves in on the province, who are dithering on this."
Ward 1 Councillor Dan Gibson, who proposed the amendment to the referral by moving the meeting date to November 7 and removing a reference to Nestle, said that council "can simply have a conversation about our concerns around water taking," and that his amendment freed them from talking about one permit and speaking about the entire water taking process. "And we have a lot to hear from the community," he added referring to the full house in the gallery.
Eventually council did vote for Gibson's amendment to the referral 11 to 2, with Councillors Phil Allt and Leanne Piper voting against. Both councillors said after the vote that their concern was tying the political debate to the technical function of staff, and Piper specifically pointed out that typically in planning matters, the City hears from the public before issuing a report. In response to media reports that characterized him as antagonistic to Gordon's motion, Mayor Cam Guthrie said that he believed "we're a lot closer on this than people may think." He hopes that the Province will release the EVR prior to the November 7 meeting, "but the discussion will still take place." The original motion by Gordon, now amended, passed council unanimously.
So water advocates, get your talking points ready, Monday November 7 will be your day!