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The Canadian Union of Public Employees brings experience and expertise to the discussion of long-term planning for water systems in several ways. Our union represents most municipal workers in Canada and in Ontario, and thereby represents the majority of the men and women who work in our water and wastewater systems.

We represent their pride in delivering safe, clean water to the public, and their interests as working people. CUPE as a whole - our members in all sectors - has made a commitment to defending public water systems through research, consultation and community organizing.

We are a part of community-based water watch coalitions across the country campaigning for high-quality public water systems.

CUPE is also part of a global labour and environmental network promoting water as a basic human right.

CUPE not only defends public water, but also promotes the protection of our water sources, conservation, democratic governance and adequate long-term funding of publicly owned and controlled water systems and resources.

Canada’s water and wastewater systems are publicly delivered to meet basic human needs and to protect public health. Municipal water systems were one of the first major services to be publicly delivered in Canada - essential to our public health system. Water infrastructure is public precisely because the private sector could not be relied upon to deliver a quality service at a price that all residents could afford. But a belief that we can count on the private sector to manage our public water resources is gaining ground in government and policy circles.

Now it is 2005 and private interests increasingly view water as a source of profit. A May 2000 edition of Fortune Magazine foretold that water would be to the precious and lucrative commodity of the 21st century that oil was to the 20th century.

Commercialization of water is creeping up in private treatment and delivery of drinking water; bulk water exports to the United States, and bottling of municipally treated water for resale by private companies.

Meanwhile, estimates of Canada’s public water infrastructure deficit across Canada vary, but are as high as $50 billion. Regardless of the price tag, there is consensus that investment is required and difficult choices have to be made by all orders of government as they decide how best to manage Canada’s fresh water resources. Privatization is presented to municipal governments in a pretty package, their proponents eager to capitalize on the difficult budget binds municipal councils often find themselves in. Private financing schemes, called public private partnerships (P3s), are coming under increasing scrutiny for their higher costs, compromised quality, secrecy, lack of public control and accountability, and other problems. Proposals are made in groupings of companies, without clear lines of accountability and usually with at least one international player. A consortium of financing, construction, and service companies, purports to give local officials choice and flexibility. P3s are appealing because they allow governments to show balanced budgets, but only by hiding debt and passing higher costs on to future generations.

Governments have a responsibility to ensure access to and protection of clean water as a basic human right and touchstone of environmental stewardship. Their choices have implications for this critical question: who benefits? From CUPE’s point of view, the choice is as clear as public water itself - public investment must benefit people, communities and ecosystems, not international for-profit water companies.

The recent release of Watertight: The Case for Change in Ontario’s Water and Wastewater Sector by the Water Strategy Expert Panel1, should have marked a turning point in the confusion that has become the public water system of the Province of Ontario. Sadly, that is not the case for a number of reasons, which we will highlight in this brief letter.

In this report:

  • Page 03 - Introduction
  • Page 04 - Our concerns
  • Page 05 - Accountability
  • Page 06 - Financially irresponsible approach
  • Page 08 - Opens Ontario to Risks under international trade agreements
  • Page 09 - Additional agreements
  • Page 10 - Privatization failures
  • Page 12 - Problems around the world
  • Page 14 - CUPE supports the position of the Canadian environmental law association
  • Page 21 - Publicly financial infrastructure
  • Page 22 - Conclusion