The highly-emotional issue of Nestlé Waters’ bottling operations in Aberfoyle were front and centre both inside and outside Guelph City Hall Monday night.
Outside, roughly 250 people gathered at a rally in support of councillor James Gordon’s efforts to get city council to formally voice its opposition to Nestlé and its effort to get its water taking permit renewed by the province.
Inside, after two hours of debate, an amended version of Gordon’s notice of motion was unanimously passed by council.
It will now come up at the Nov. 7 meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole, where public delegations will be allowed. They can also speak on the issue at the Nov. 28 meeting of full council.
Procedural by-laws prohibited delegations at Monday’s stage of the motion.
In addition to delaying delegations and debate of the motion to a later date, Gordon’s motion now no longer refers to Nestlé specifically.
Earlier in the meeting Gordon called it “the ‘N’ word” and that it was the “elephant in the room.”
“The only thing I worry about is the sense of urgency and even the Mayor mentioned that,” Gordon said of the changes to his motion, pushing it back another month on the council agenda.
“There’s real momentum now and will we lose that momentum and unconsciously get tied into that staff report?”
As for the removal of the word “Nestlé’” from the motion, Gordon said he “didn’t really see the point, because that’s what we’re talking about.”
Gordon, supported by several councillors, feel it is important to get the motion on the floor as soon as possible to capitalize on the momentum.
He said he has received around 900 emails, almost all in favour of Guelph voicing opposition to Nestlé.
“I don’t want this issue to be lost in the shuffle,” Gordon said.
“We’ve got momentum now … national attention,” added councillor Leanne Piper.
“We’ve got a real opportunity to show leadership on this issue,” said councillor June Hofland.
Other councillors felt it was important to wait for a staff report on water taking in the area. They can’t complete that report until the province releases its own report on the issue.
Councillor Christine Billings said council shouldn’t be potentially sending two different messages to the province – one from the public and one from staff – and that it needed a united front.
Both councillors Gibson and Karl Wettstein wanted “Nestlé” taken out of the motion.
Gibson, who tabled the amended motion, felt that “dropping the ‘N’ (Nestlé) word frees us up to talk about the water taking process overall.”
Mayor Cam Guthrie said he felt council was a lot more unified on the issue than many felt and admitted that Monday’s discussion convinced him there was urgency on the issue.
At the pre-council rally, people sang, chanted, listened to passionate speakers and held their signs high, all in opposition of Nestlé Waters water removal from their well in Aberfoyle and their attempts to get the province to renew their permit.
Many of those in attendance at the rally then moved inside City Hall to fill the gallery at council as they discussed Gordon’s referral motion.
Nobody at the rally was hesitant to use the ‘N’ word.
“Nestlé will actually profit from climate change. In their business plan it probably says that they can make huge profits when water becomes scarce,” said Arlene Slocombe of Wellington Water Watchers.
“This is a local example of disaster capitalism that Naomi Klein talks about,” Slocombe said.
“This is an incredibly important fight. What we are doing right here, right now, we are on the front lines in all of Canada,” Slocombe said. “The eyes of the nation – the eyes of the world – are on us.”
Nestlé Waters sent out a fact sheet to media Monday.
It included the following:
- Nestlé Waters has over 308 employees in Aberfoyle.
- has 15 years of sustainable operations in Wellington County.
- has over 80 monitoring points in Aberfoyle to ensure long-term sustainability.
- has donated over 1 million bottles of water in 2016.