The project promotes public water by encouraging communities to consider banning the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and passing resolutions to oppose privatization of water utilities through public private partnerships (P3s). Accomplishing these is part of a broader mandate of working to protect water as a human right and public good - something that should not be sold off as a source of profit.
CUPE researcher Corina Crawley joined Council of Canadians’ staff Meera Karunananthan, Water Campaigner and Angela Giles, Atlantic Regional Organizer on the tour. We met with Atlantic activists who are members of both CUPE and the Council, students, municipal leaders and media.
The CUPE contribution was to speak in depth about the risks of water and wastewater infrastructure privatization through P3s and the benefits of public ownership, in addition to the importance of investing in quality tap water and access to it through investment in public fountains. Brothers Danny Cavanagh, President of CUPE Nova Scotia, and Wayne Lucas, President of CUPE Newfoundland/Labrador addressed these issues to audiences in their respective home towns.
A number of opportunities to support municipalities wishing to join the more than 40 communities across Canada that have already banned the sale of bottled water in their facilities became apparent and will be followed up. There was significant interest in P3s and concern about their implications for communities. The tour helped increase awareness among local activists, many of whom will be adding P3s and the benefits of keeping water public to their list of local campaign issues. Two water watch committees got started along the way, one was launched in Moncton and another is in the works in Charlottetown.
The tour was kicked off to coincide with the Canadian Bottled Water Association Conference and the launch of a new report by the Polaris Institute and CUPE
Nova Scotia, called ‘Bottled Water Gate’. The report exposed that the federal government spent a total sum of $ 7.3 million on bottled water over the past year.
Events organized by local chapters were open to the public. Meetings with high school students addressed the culture of bottled water versus tap water that corporations have fostered among young people, and opportunities to promote tap water amongst young people, their peers and their families. Meetings with municipal officials were an important component of the tour. There was significant interest in the Blue Communities Project and support was offered to municipalities open to exploring the actions proposed in it. Local leaders who may wish to get involved in a progressive municipal water caucus were identified along the way. Mayors in Wolfville, NS and Saint John, NB, are particularly important allies on protecting public water.
Input was invited for an upcoming revision of the guide which is in draft form, and the resolutions are simply templates that could be adapted to local needs. That said, to become a blue community a municipal council would have to undertake at least one and show a genuine interest in pursuing another of the three.
In sum, the tour was dynamic and worthwhile. Small but engaged audiences came out to hear about the Blue Communities Project and how P3s can affect water services. Those who did come were ready to take action with new and budding water watch committees and initiatives emerging from events in at least three of the communities (PEI, Moncton and Saint John).
The tour received media attention in almost every community visited with several radio interviews, one television interview and a number of articles in local press. Overall it was a worthwhile initiative that garnered a lot of attention, brought new issues to bear and resulted in greater community engagement and alliances among activists and with municipal government officials across the region.
- The critiques of privatization and municipal control in the context of resisting P3s in particular are not always relevant in a rural context where wells are often on private land with some or no testing provided by the municipality. Since circumstances vary our arguments and focus must also be adapted to context.
- Analysis around water pricing and metering must be deepened as this is an area where there was much disagreement and insufficient examples/knowledge about the impacts on equality of access, actual contribution to conservation of water, and opening up opportunities for privatization, to support those concerns.
Respectfully submitted by:
Senior Research Officer