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Communities across Canada celebrated World Water Day last Sunday by raising a glass of tap water. The “Toast to Public Water” campaign, initiated by the Polaris Institute, highlighted the qualities of tap water over bottled water, the advantages of public ownership over private.

Several municipal councillors in the Halifax Regional Municipality toasted their public water in front of city hall.

Councillor Dawn Sloane, who was representing Mayor Peter Kelly’s office, led the toast which was organized by the coalition to ‘Turn on the Taps and Ditch the Bottle’.

Public water and reusable bottles – supplied by CUPE and Mountain Equipment Co-op - were available for the toast.

The coalition, which CUPE Nova Scotia is a part of, also delivered a large ‘bottled water tower’, constructed of bottles found in the garbage at municipal facilities.

“As Canadians, we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy fresh, clean tap water.  What better way to celebrate this than to ditch the bottle and turn on the taps,” said CUPE Nova Scotia President Danny Cavanagh.

Similar World Water Day events were held in Victoria, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Simon Fraser University hosted the Right to Water Film Festival in Vancouver, while the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition raised a glass to celebrate Victoria’s top-notch tap water.

In Winnipeg, about 75 aboriginal, community and union activists stood in the rain to celebrate World Water Day at City Hall last Friday.

The program included speeches by Chief Eli Mandamin of the Shoal Lake Band (where Winnipeg gets its water), CUPE Manitoba, and the Winnipeg Citizen’s Coalition. The mayor was invited, but declined to speak. There were also aboriginal drummers, a flutist and an elder who blessed the water.

Mike Skaftfeld, CUPE Manitoba Executive Assistant, brought greetings from Kevin Rebeck, President of CUPE Manitoba. Rebeck was in Istanbul, Turkey at the World Water Forum.

“While the water activists in Istanbul are watching the international stage and what is planned at a global scale for water, you, today, are focusing attention on the challenges public water in Winnipeg is facing,” Skaftfeld told the activists who attended the event.

Winnipeg’s city council voted recently to seek private partners to expand the water treatment plants in Winnipeg. American, French and British water corporations are interested in bidding.

“While the mayor and some councilors say this is not privatization, we worry that it is the first step in a slippery slope to privatization. If a private company gets control of waste water treatment facilities, then it could affect how the city delivers water,” said Skatfeld.

At the national level, CUPE is calling on the Canadian government to support the recognition of water as a human right in the World Water Forum’s ministerial statement, and in domestic law.

See photos from Halifax and Winnipeg toasts.