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Deadly Water in Walkerton, Ontario

The events over the last month in Walkerton, Ontario, have changed the way many Canadians think about water forever. Since the news emerged over the long weekend in May that something was horribly wrong with Walkertons water, countless Canadians have thought twice about whats coming out of their kitchen tap. The residents of Walkerton trusted the water they drank. They never expected it to kill them.

The public utilities commission in Walkerton is staffed by members of CUPE Local 255 who joined the thousands who demanded the government call an independent public inquiry into the tragedy. They, like the rest of the residents of the town of Walkerton and all Canadians, need answers. The government finally gave in to the demands and called an inquiry on May 31.

There are many questions that remain to be answered about Walkerton. But, what is clear is that downloading, deregulation and privatization broke a vital link in the chain of communication and accountability that is supposed to protect public water and public health in this country.

Seven people are confirmed to have been killed by Walkertons water and another 11 deaths are under investigation, bringing the possible death toll to 18. Over 1,000 of Walkertons 4,500 residents have gone to hospital. Many more will suffer permanent health damage. Some will be on kidney dialysis for the rest of their lives.

The tragedy in Walkerton is an indictment of the Mike Harris “Common Sense Revolution” and Ontarians are questioning their governments policies like never before.

Walkerton also highlights just how frayed some of Canadas water systems are. Across the country, drinking water and wastewater systems are in desperate need of upgrading and repair. Poorly funded and under-resourced public systems are in danger of failing other communities. The network of services and systems that failed Walkerton needs to be repaired not just patched up, but in some cases, rebuilt.

CUPE has been warning about the dangers of downloading, deregulation and privatization of water since 1997. We represent the front line workers who deliver water across Canada. But our concern was not first and foremost about jobs. On a day-to-day basis, our members see the urgent need to reinvest in public water systems in order to protect lives and livelihoods. We launched our Water Watch campaign and have created 32 Water Watch committees across the country to try and avert just the sort of tragedy that is now devastating the community of Walkerton.

We will be intensifying our work around water quality and safety issues in the coming months to ensure that there are no more Walkertons not in Ontario, not anywhere across the country.