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CUPE water and wastewater workers have won an important victory in Toronto. In response to public outcry and concerns about potential privatization, Toronto City Council has voted to abandon earlier plans to move the citys water and sewer system under the control of an arms-length municipal service board. Instead, Council has voted to retain control and appoint a committee to oversee water issues, which was a proposal that came from the Citys own Water Advocate, Councillor Irene Jones. Councillors also passed a motion against privatizing water operations in the City of Toronto.

Water workers were active in the fight to retain public control, through the Toronto Water Watch coalition. Working with environmental and citizen groups, water workers helped mobilize thousands of Toronto residents against the proposed water board. Over the course of a campaign that lasted several months, the public spoke out clearly on the issue, expressing overwhelming opposition to putting political appointees, who may well have had a privatization agenda, in charge of Torontos water.

Residents of Toronto made thousands of phone calls to councillors, they sent emails and faxes, and they came out to public meetings en masse to make it clear that accountability was a main concern. They said they felt that the current public system was the safest and the most accountable system available. Amidst news reports that representatives from multinational water corporations have been lobbying councillors, Council ultimately gave in to public will and scrapped the Mayors ill-advised push for an arms-length board.

The new water committee will be struck in the spring of 2003, and should be empowered to accelerate investment in infrastructure and to address concerns about the Citys aging water system, long a concern of CUPE members who work in Torontos water plants. The committee will report directly to Council.

The Toronto victory is the latest drum beat in what is clearly a national expression in favour of public water, following similar successful campaigns in Vancouver and in Moncton.