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As a result of a chance meeting with CUPE’s national president in a Regina hotel elevator on Friday morning, federal trade minister Pierre Pettigrew wound up addressing more than 250 delegates a few hours later at CUPE Saskatchewan’s annual convention.

Stating it was his first union meeting, minister Pettigrew charmed delegates with his quick wit and relaxed manner, as he responded to a series of questions about the impact of GATS and other trade deals on public services. Members were particularly concerned about water.

“We want you to know that our water is not for sale,” Saskatoon CUPE member Phil Miller told the minister.

CUPE’s national secretary-treasurer Claude Gnreux echoed that sentiment: “Our members want to ensure that water remains in the public domain for the common good.” He asked the minister if the federal government shares this view.

Pettigrew responded by stating the government believes it’s an environmental issue, not a trade issue. “Every time we [government members] are asked a question like this one in the house of commons, I stay glued to my chair and let the environment minister respond.”

According to Pettigrew, the government has taken this position because “we do not believe that water should become ’a good’ that would be subjected to any of Canada’s international trade obligations.”

The minister said the government’s position is that Canada has total sovereignty over its water and has no intention of making it part of our international trade obligations.

CUPE National President Judy Darcy also stressed that CUPE members are very concerned over the increased privatization of health care. She urged the minister to take a strong stand at the cabinet table and in discussions with the prime minister and health minister to defend public health care.

To help him remember his first union meeting, Ms. Darcy presented the minister with a CUPE Saskatchewan fleece jacket, which he put on over his suit before leaving the convention hall.