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P.E.I. government grilled over 'secret proposal' from Cavendish Farms for high-capacity wells

Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving, left, and Jubs Bristow, vice-president of agriculture for Cavendish Farms, take questions from MLAs during a meeting of the standing committee on communities, land and environment on Thursday. The two have recommended the province double the potato farm land limits.
Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving, left, and Jubs Bristow, vice-president of agriculture for Cavendish Farms, take questions from MLAs during a meeting of the standing committee on communities, land and environment on Thursday, Nov. 1. - SaltWire Network

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Georgetown-St. Peters MLA Steven Myers pressed the Island’s minister of communities, land and environment about what he described as a “secret proposal” made by Cavendish Farms related to high-capacity wells.

Opposition MLA Steven Myers.
Steven Myers

During question period on Wednesday afternoon, Myers raised a recent appearance of Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving before a legislative standing committee. Following a presentation before the committee, Irving said Cavendish Farms was in talks with the government around water use. In media interviews, Richard Brown also stated the province was reviewing a proposal on the subject from Cavendish Farms.

Cavendish Farms has advocated lifting a provincial moratorium on high capacity or ‘deep water,’ wells. Conservation groups are concerned these wells could have adverse effects on the Island’s aquifers.

"The minister of communities, land and environment did reveal that the Irvings have made a secret proposal to this government," Myers said during question period.

"What exactly is the secret that you don't want to disclose to Islanders?"

"I think the 'secret proposal' was outlined by the Irvings in their presentation,” Brown said in response.

“They want land limits to increase, and I think the presentation itself was around deep-water wells.”

During the Nov. 1 committee meeting, Irving also advocated for doubling the allowable land size for potato farmers under the province’s Land Protection Act. Irving argued the increases were needed to allow potato farms to remain viable and to allow for a three-year crop rotation cycle.

Richard Brown
Richard Brown

Following question period, Brown said that his department had obtained a proposal from Cavendish Farms asking for the province to lift its current moratorium on high-capacity wells.

Brown further acknowledged the proposal has not been made public.

"I'd have to go through the privacy commissioner. These are company documents and company proposals,” he said.

Brown said he would have to ask Cavendish Farms before releasing the proposal to the public.

In an interview, Myers said the lack of public oversight on this proposal was evidence of the undue influence of Cavendish Farms on Prince Edward Island.

“We don’t know what the government is promising them,” Myers said.

“When I asked how many times they met, he wouldn’t answer it.”

Brown said the Island’s moratorium on high-capacity wells would remain in place at least until the completion of a study by the Canadian Rivers Institute. The study is due to be completed in 2021.

Brown also took issue with the accusation that Robert Irving had undue influence on the province’s political decisions. He said he had met with Cavendish Farms only once about the water use proposal.

He said he has asked the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to review all land ownership on P.E.I.

"Our process is open and transparent and it's going to be open and transparent until the final day," Brown said.

"The Irvings do not have any more influence over what happens in the government of Prince Edward Island than any other individual on Prince Edward Island."

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