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CUPE leaders and municipal politicians gathered in Halifax this week to discuss how to build and maintain sustainable water and wastewater systems in Canadian communities. Water issues were raised at a panel discussion hosted by CUPE National President Paul Moist at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

Canada’s water resources are facing unprecedented threats and challenges. Communities right across Canada must address critical issues like the infrastructure deficit, the impact of climate changes, new environmental regulations and water operator recruitment and retention. The panel discussion provided an opportunity for municipal leaders, labour leaders and experts in water issues and workplace training to discuss these important issues.

The federal government has introduced new wastewater effluent regulations that may require municipalities to upgrade their facilities. The new rules could cost more than $20 billion to implement and could impact close to 1,000 water facilities across the country. Water workers may need to upgrade their certification levels to meet new standards.

Moist called on the federal government to help fund upgrades to wastewater facilities and support workplace training to upgrade certification and provide training for water treatment operators who will implement the new rules. “We must invest in the people to operate our water systems,” said Moist.

Danny Cavanagh, president of CUPE Nova Scotia and a water worker himself, said that investing in training programs for the people who deliver water services is critical, especially when new regulations and rules are implemented. Cavanagh spoke about how his own workplace training help him gain certification he needed but also helped him gain the confidence and skills to become a leader in his community. “These programs work well – and I’m living proof.”

CUPE Education Officer Sylvia Sioufi Sylvia Sioufi echoed the call for an investment in people. “Skilled workers are key to ensuring we have safe water,” said Sioufi. ”Just-in-time training is not enough we must create workplaces where continuous learning is possible.

Joining panelists from CUPE was Fred Wendt, water coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax addressed the impact of climate changes and regulatory changes on the delivery of clean water to communities. He called on the federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to address the challenges. “We need a national water strategy that recognizes water as a public trust not to be squandered,” said Wendt.

Many FCM delegates spoke about the importance of keeping our water public, working to reduce bottled water and finding ways to invest in training for workers to ensure a safe and efficient water system.  

The FCM is holding its annual meeting in Halifax on June 3 to 6 and CUPE is taking a simple message to politicians: quality public services help build the strong and vibrant communities we all want.