Across Canada and around the world, water activists are mobilizing to mark March 22, World Water Day. This day is an opportunity to re-energize our movements in defense of public water and wastewater systems. Water is essential to life and health for people and our planet. We must oppose any attempt to turn it into a source of profit for corporations.
Since making water a strategic target in our anti-privatization work, CUPE has won many key battles as a union and in coalition with other groups. We are committed to increasing our efforts, ensuring that wherever a corporation or government promotes privatization, Water Watchers are there to defend public water. In communities like Saint John, New Brunswick and Victoria, B.C., there are active campaigns to stop water and wastewater privatization. CUPE is proud that our members are on the front lines in both of these important struggles, and many others.
Our union is preparing to significantly scale up its anti-privatization work, and preventing corporate control of water systems will be part of that plan. The situation is urgent. Canada’s water systems and supplies are under growing pressure from underfunding, privatization, climate change, trade deals, pollution and aging infrastructure.
The federal government’s “Building Canada” infrastructure plan increases the pressure to privatize by continuing to underfund cities and towns while introducing measures that force municipalities into P3s. Small, rural and First Nations communities are particularly vulnerable to privatization pressure.
We will continue to press federal and provincial governments for increased public funding so communities can build, maintain and expand public water and wastewater systems and other vital infrastructure. We will also continue to support the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ call for an end to the municipal fiscal imbalance that leaves cities and towns unable to adequately fund vital services and systems like water.
In the coming year, we will work to strengthen connections with First Nations communities on water issues. The scandal of inadequate water and sewage systems on many reserves must end, but the solutions must be controlled by the community – not corporations.
CUPE will also continue to press the federal government to support public services, not privatization, in the global South. Water is a basic human right. Yet in 2008 – international year of sanitation – 2.6 billion people in poor countries lack access to basic toilet and sanitation facilities. More than 1.4 billion people don’t have safe drinking water, and women and girls in poor countries are the hardest hit.
Together with Oxfam Canada and other global justice allies, CUPE will press the Canadian government to deliver a plan raising our aid contribution to 0.7 per cent of Canada’s income, and ensure our aid focuses on reducing poverty, promoting human rights and building public services like drinking water and sanitation systems. We also join our allies in demanding that Canada reverse its opposition to the United Nations formally recognizing the human right to water.
There’s clear evidence that public works best for water systems in Canada, and around the globe. Communities where privatization has been averted are seeing the success that’s possible when they stay public. From Halifax to Vancouver, public water projects are on-time and on (or under) budget, often using leading-edge technology. CUPE is committed to learning from and promoting public success stories. They are an excellent antidote to the privateer’s claims that “there is no alternative.”
Next year Water Watch celebrates its 10th birthday. At the founding conference, CUPE joined the Council of Canadians, environmental groups and other concerned citizens in launching a movement that now has strong roots in many communities. We have learned from our successes – and our setbacks. So have the privateers – making our activism and organizing in defense of public water more important than ever. Together, we can defeat privatization and strengthen public water systems.
We strongly urge CUPE locals to organize and support World Water Day activities in their communities, connecting with allies in the movement for public water like local chapters of the Council of Canadians and Oxfam Canada. You can find out what’s happening – and how you can start something in your community – by visiting cupe.ca/water. You’ll find a list of easy-to-do action ideas, backgrounders on the key issues and connections to other groups.
We raise a glass of Ottawa’s municipal tap water to toast the coming year of activism on water!
PAUL MOIST CLAUDE GÉNÉREUX
National President National Secretary-Treasurer