The Toronto Star
Feb. 19, 2003. 01:00 AM

Still waters go cheap

Ontario Environment Minister Chris Stockwell has overruled a tribunal, and agreed a Swiss company can triple the amount of water it takes from a shallow little river near Perth. And that is that. Stockwell is silent on why he did what he did.

In making the decision, Stockwell threw out a ruling made last year by the province's own Environmental Review Tribunal. That tribunal held 35 days of hearings and concluded OMYA Canada Inc.'s plan to take 4.5 million litres a day from the Tay River left too many questions unanswered about the risks to the environment.

The tribunal found a middle ground, limiting the company to 1.5 million litres a day.

Stockwell's decision has flabbergasted critics already worried about the effects of drought in the area.

But the minister isn't talking. He is using a spokeswoman to pass on the message that lawyers have advised him not to speak because the issue could land before the courts.

What nonsense. This is not a legal decision, rather a policy decision that Stockwell knew would be controversial. He should now have the courage to stand up and defend what he did. It's especially annoying in this instance for Stockwell to hide behind lawyers. The case was already headed to court. OMYA had appealed the tribunal's ruling. We wonder what Stockwell's legal advisers told him about a minister bypassing a court.

Since Stockwell isn't speaking, we are also left to wonder what this says about his commitment to following through on the Walkerton inquiry report. It recommended the need for a law to protect sources of water. A component would include "a water budget," which would prevent someone from, say, siphoning huge amounts of water without a study showing the environmental impact.

We also wonder what Stockwell says to critics who claim his action amounts to a government subsidy because OMYA isn't paying a cent for the water. The firm gets to take 4.5 million litres a day for free.