Tapped out

October 14, 2012


Watching the controversy over the cancelling of the documentary “Tapped” has been both interesting and frustrating.  I have had advice from several quarters not to wade in because the decision to co-sponsor the Water Conservation Documentary Nights and to cancel this particular film was a decision of the Administration and not Council. That it will all blow over. 

This feels too politically expedient.  It misses an opportunity to learn from the incident and to bring greater clarity to the roles of citizens and stakeholders in local government decision making.  And I fear it will only add to cynicism about local government and the role of municipal employees.

This is what I know and/or have learned:

  • I received a letter from Nestle expressing their “disappointment about City of Guelph Water Services co-sponsoring the documentary Tapped as part of Water Conservation Documentary Nights”.
  • I wasn’t surprised to learn Water Services were partnering with the Wellington Water Watchers on a film series on water conservation.  We have partnered with them in the past to achieve mutual goals.
  • I referred the correspondence to staff for the necessary background for a response.
  • Staff had not viewed the documentary before agreeing to its co-sponsorship.
  • The concerns expressed by Nestle prompted the Manager of Water Services to view the documentary.
  • After viewing the documentary, the Manager made a decision that, professionally, the City of Guelph Water Services could not support co-sponsoring the documentary.
  • The film was cancelled.
  • I provided a response to Nestle that included the decision of the Manager.
  • Members of the community believe that Nestle successfully pressured the City of Guelph not to show the film.

This is what I believe:

About the decision to cancel the documentary

  • As co-sponsors, both the Wellington Water Watchers and Water Services have the right to agree to the films that would be shown as part of the Water Conservation Documentary Nights.
  • Had Water Services viewed the documentary in advance, they would have been well within their rights to have not co-sponsored the showing of Tapped for professional reasons.
  • Water Services consistently demonstrates a high level of technical and professional integrity.
  • Water Services does have professional concerns about the documentary.
  • The time for Water Services expressing their professional concerns, by not showing the film, had passed.
  • Given the sequence of events, maintaining the trust of citizens and community stakeholders should have taken priority and a different resolution found.
  • More people will view the film given the controversy and attend the screening tomorrow night by the Council of Canadians.

About the letter from Nestle

  • Nestle has a right to express their concerns about the documentary’s claims.
  • Nestle has a right to express the ways in which they believe their company brings value to the local community and the local economy.
  • Nestle did not ask the City of Guelph, through my office, to cancel the documentary.
  • I personally feel Nestle was attempting to exert pressure on the City of Guelph by including the following paragraph in their correspondence: “Given that we are occasionally sought out by national and international business concerns to offer our perspective on Canada, Ontario and Guelph as places to invest, I would appreciate receiving your guidance about how we should respond to any future outreach by commercial interests regarding Guelph’s suitability as a place to invest.”

This is what I hope:

  • People will view the documentary, listen to Nestle’s concerns, seek out additional information, and come to their own conclusions.
  • The good work of our Water Services in promoting municipal water and of Solid Waste Services in reducing waste is not forgotten. Learn more at I Love Guelph Tap Water
  • People will choose Guelph tap water.

Why choose tap water?

  • Tap water is the environmentally friendly, socially conscious, affordable, healthy and delicious choice. 
  • Guelph’s drinking water is tested over 20,000 times a year to make sure it is safe from the well to your tap.
  • Guelph has some of the best drinking water in the world, sourced in our own backyard and delivered right to our homes!

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

View all posts by Karen Farbridge

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8 Comments on “Tapped out”

  1. Alan Pickersgill Says:

    Thanks for wading in, Karen. This gives us some useful context for the matter. My only suggestion, in retrospect, is that the manager of water services could have invited Nestle’s to provide a documentary film of their own to include in the series.

  2. Patti Maurice Says:

    I like Alan’s suggestion as well. I understand the difficult position in which the City must have felt they were being placed, but when it gets right down to it, what Nestle did was corporate bullying, something at which they are not newbies. Their thinly veiled threat posited disingenuously as a question was typical of the strategies corporations, who let’s not forget exist only to make money, will resort to in order to get their way. This was one of their more milder strategies but remember that they strong-armed Meridian Credit Union in 2010 for a donation to Wellington Water Watchers, and a few more years ago than that with the Miami-Dade Water Departments advertising campaign to drink tap water, where they ordered the water department to “cease and desist” and “promise never to do this” (advertise tap water again)!
    see here https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2008/10/13
    and here http://www.guelphtribune.ca/news/credit-union-fires-salvo-at-nestle/

    Yes Nestles provide jobs but they pay nothing for the water they take from local aquifers and in 2011 Nestles worldwide made $35.65 billion (!!) in profit. So why the bullying tactics? They did it because they can. And I wish there had been some push-back from the City..

  3. Michael Says:

    Specific reasons for not supporting the film (after initially supporting it) should be provided by Water Services.

  4. Dave Sills Says:

    The film screening brought several hundred citizens to War Memorial Hall last night – even the balcony was packed. All age groups were well represented. Clearly, there is very broad and significant interest in Guelph regarding the issue of water and water bottling, and in defending community decision-making from the interference of multinational corporations.

    Having seen the film last night, I am left to wonder what significant ‘professional concerns’ Water Services has with it. Maude Barlow, arguably the most knowledgeable person on the planet regarding water, and former United Nations senior adviser on water issues, seemed to have no issues with the film. In the interest of transparency, and in potentially improving community knowledge of water issues, Guelph citizens need to know what these professional concerns are. Please provide this information.

  5. KFarbridge Says:

    Hi Dave and Michael,

    Staff’s concerns were that the film was US-based; because we have a very different legislative framework in Ontario (i.e. the Permit to Take Water process), we have very different ways and means of preventing/dealing with the concerns and conflicts depicted in the film.

    Just one example from the film is water bottlers not amending their water taking during droughts in various states. In Ontario, as a permit holder, Nestle is required to respond to Provincial drought plans and is part of the GRCA’s low water response team.

    We play by a different set of rules in Ontario, and showing the film without that context could be misleading.

  6. Dave Sills Says:

    Thank you for providing that information, Karen.

    You may be interested to know that Nestle is appealing the recent 5-year renewal of their permit for water taking in the Town of Erin. It appears that they want the freedom to continue to take the maximum permitted amount of water even in drought conditions. Details at http://guelphcivicleague.blogspot.ca

  7. Patti Maurice Says:

    Interesting development. The kafluffle made it to Common Dreams, a widely-read US based activist alternative news source. here’s the link:


    Also, the fact that Nestle is appealing their water-taking restrictions under drought conditions is telling.

  8. Dennis Galon Says:

    So the upshot here is that Nestle’s attempt to influence the public debate about bottle vs tap water in their favour has backfired. More Guelphites had their consciousness raised concerning the issue that otherwise would have happened, and many more saw the film that otherwise would have, and that within the context of a Maude Barlow presentation. And the mayor has had an opportunity on her blog to restate the city’s and her own support for tap water. Guelph win, Nestle loss.

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