On World Water Day, March 22, CUPE joins unions and community groups around the globe in marking the struggle to defend public water as a basic human right.
In Canada, CUPE continues to campaign for government investment that rebuilds strong communities. We take on this work in the face of ongoing privatization threats to local, community control of water services. Municipalities are confronting water infrastructure badly in need of renewal. At the same time, Canadas cities and towns have been backed against a financial wall by decades of downloading and cutbacks from higher levels of government. The need to renew and upgrade Canadas water infrastructure is estimated at $90 billion over the next 15 years. The time for major public reinvestment is now.
Private interests are, of course, only too eager to cash in on the situation. One way they are trying to do this is through Prime Minister Paul Martins New Deal for Cities, a major item in the 2005 federal budget. The New Deal is the result of concerted political pressure from Canadian mayors and community activists for stable, adequate funding and a coherent plan for fixing and enhancing community infrastructure, including water and wastewater systems.
The good news is New Deal money, earmarked for municipal infrastructure renewal, will begin to flow this year (pending approval of the budget in the House of Commons, expected later this month).
The not-so-good news is that the money isnt enough, nor is it coming fast enough. The budget will transfer only $600 million in each of the first two years of this New Deal to be shared by Canadas municipalities.
The bad news, and increasingly a common feature of Martins chequebook federalism, is that this new funding comes without any strings attached to make sure the money is spent on public infrastructure renewal. Without any conditions, this money can go straight into corporate pockets through so-called public-private partnerships (P3s) which diminish public control, increase costs and lower the quality of service. In other words, the money is being transferred without any enforceable accountability mechanisms built into the program.
What we need is funding for public infrastructure, not private pockets. Canadas cities and towns are best served by public investment in water and wastewater systems. It is the most effective and accountable use of tax dollars, and it is the best way to rebuild strong communities from coast to coast to coast.
On World Water Day 2005, there are also some recent successes to celebrate.
In the fall of 2004, the city of Hamilton, Ont., voted to take back operation and maintenance of its water and wastewater systems, ending an era of secrecy, spilled sewage, malfunctioning equipment and a revolving door of corporate contractors. This win came after a decade of monitoring, campaigning and pressure from a broad community coalition including members of CUPE 5167. Learn more about the Hamilton story.
And people power in Kamloops, BC, also recently scored a victory by turning back a proposed P3 water treatment plant. The new, public, facility just opened the fruit of the labour of CUPE 900 and local activists, including the Council of Canadians, who mobilized, educated and lobbied to keep the plant public. The victory in Kamloops was one of four wins CUPE helped score in BC, turning the tide against water privatization in 2001.
Internationally, the fight for public control over water rages on, with sometimes deadly consequences. The people of Bolivia have been fighting for years now to keep corporations from owning its water systems outright, with communities such as Cochabamba and El Alto vigorously defending public control of water. And now, they too are fighting something that will sound familiar to Canadians a P3. This government-proposed new model would give 35 per cent of the shares to Suez, one of the two biggest water corporations on the planet. Communities are countering with a Public-Social partnership, keeping control in elected hands.
Today, CUPE rededicates itself to work locally, nationally and globally to defend clean, safe affordable public water. Publicly funded, delivered and operated water systems are the only way to assure quality, accessible and accountable water services for all.
Read CUPEs water statement, Public water for all.
Download CUPEs plan to strengthen Canadas public water and wastewater systems
Stopping water privatization has become a major focus in the fight for global justice, a goal that CUPE has long supports. Internationally, this fight has been coordinated by Public Services International (PSI), which today re-affirmed the global goal of keeping public water services out of corporate hands.