Water is a vital resource essential to our survival. Yet the Harper Conservative government has neglected to protect and preserve Canada’s water resources.
Harper Conservatives’ Record
In the 2007 Throne Speech the Harper Conservatives announced that a National Water Strategy would be implemented to help clean up our major lakes and oceans and improve access to safe drinking water for First Nations. But the so-called strategy was really a patchwork of funding proposals which never resulted in a national plan that adequately invested in or protected our water resources and facilities.
There are still 49 First Nations communities with high risk water facilities and 114 communities are under a drinking water advisory. In 2010 the federal government committed only $330 million over two years to continue the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves. In 2011, there was no new money. Any strategy that denies access to safe, clean water to any community in this country is an abysmal failure regardless of gains made elsewhere.
In 2007, the government introduced a Building Canada Fund and $8 billion was directed toward infrastructure investment. Municipal water and wastewater facilities received a portion of this cost shared funding but it merely scratched the surface of the $31 billion deficit.
In 2008, the Harper Conservative government added a P3 Fund to the Building Canada Fund. It explicitly promoted privatization. This $1.25-billion fund was a massive subsidy to promote the use of public-private partnerships in the procurement of public infrastructure by provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations governments. A crown corporation, PPP Canada Inc., administered the fund and municipal proposals were actively solicited for a multitude of infrastructure projects including water and wastewater treatment. Several cities in Canada have since applied for funding for their drinking water facilities.
In 2010, new rules were passed by Environment Canada to improve the quality of wastewater being discharged into the country’s rivers and streams. Close to 1,000 water and wastewater facilities may have to upgrade their infrastructure at costs that are expected to exceed $20 billion. The federal government has been silent on where the funding for these upgrades will come from.
Despite the well documented danger of privatization, the choices of the Harper Conservative government over the past five years have intensified pressure on municipalities and First Nations communities to privatize financing, operations, management and/or maintenance of their water facilities. Pressure is being exerted because of underfunding and neglect, and by the federal government itself through PPPCanada Inc. who are looking to both promote public-private water and wastewater partnerships across the country.
Canada’s water system is facing an unprecedented threat from the proposed Canada- European Union Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). Negotiators are considering the inclusion of municipal drinking and wastewater services in an international trade agreement for the first time ever. The largest multinational water corporations are located in Europe and this agreement potentially opens up a market for Canada’s public water systems.
The conditions of our water systems and the inadequate response of our government render Canada vulnerable to the private sector provision of drinking water and sanitation services. In 2007, after years of aging, deterioration and neglect, there was an estimated $31 billion water infrastructure deficit in Canadian municipalities.
Municipalities also face a $20 billion dollar expense of upgrading our wastewater facilities to meet important federal wastewater regulations.
Water is increasingly being viewed by the private sector as a lucrative commodity, and as water scarcity becomes an issue in the US there has been increasing pressure over the past few years to consider exporting our water in bulk.
The impact of climate change on our watershed and water infrastructure is having serious impacts on both water quality and quantity and requires immediate action. Precious water resources such as the Great Lakes and the area surrounding the Tar Sands are in need of protection, restoration and clean up.Unfortunately,Canada has a poor environmental record to date, ranking 46 out of 163 countries on the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).
Our next federal government must:
- recognize that water is a human right and develop and fund a National Water Strategy based on this principal;
- commit to a long term strategy to protect the public provision and control over our water. Priority must be placed on consulting with First Nations communities and providing public funding for drinking water facilities;
- establish a National Public Water Fund to finance water and wastewater upgrades to be cost-shared with provincial and municipal governments;
- exempt water services from (delivery and treatment) from any commitments under Canada EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
Recent polling suggests that 78 per cent of Canadians support Federal funding over the next few years to address our infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure spending for water and wastewater facilities is critical to help clean water supplies, conserve water and put municipal infrastructure in step with the new challenges posed by climate change.