For more information: CUPE BC Water Watch Campaign
Faced with inroads by water corporations, Epcor and Terasen, in smaller communities such as Port Hardy, Sooke and French Creek, as well as imminent threats to public water in larger regions such as Greater Victoria and the Nanaimo Regional District, CUPE locals from all parts of the Island formed a CUPE Water Watch Committee in the summer of 2005. Brother Rodger Oakley, President of CUPE Local 401 (Nanaimo Civic) is the Chair of the committee. More than six CUPE local unions, CUPE B.C., and CUPE National contribute to the campaign. A full-time coordinator was hired and CUPE Research and Communications staff supported the campaign.
In the short term, campaign objectives included: informing Island residents about the implications of privatized water and wastewater; facilitating the development of local community coalitions to protect public water; making public water and wastewater an issue in the November civic elections; and electing progressive municipal councillors who are opposed to private operation of water or wastewater systems.
Over the long term, the campaign set out to: ensure Epcor doesn’t gain control of water services in the mid-Island region; ensure Terasen doesn’t gain control in the Capital region; strengthen community coalitions; present analyses and critiques of private water and sewer systems on the Island; promote the value of publicly delivered water amongst the general public; and create both a campaign and public policy model that can be used elsewhere.
Campaign Tools and Tactics
Campaign tools and tactics have included: pamphlets; fact sheets; paid newspaper advertising; radio ads; public opinion survey research; earned media; op ed articles; internal and external email list serves; use of a provincial CUPE website; formal submissions to regulators; meetings with politicians; public forums; news conferences; letters to the editor; promotion of resolutions; and presentations to municipal councils.
The campaign has only been in place for a relatively short time, but its accomplishments already include: a unanimous resolution by the Board of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) that halted a management plan to contract out to Epcor all 14 rural water service areas in the region; numerous submissions and responses to the Comptroller of Water Rights which have significantly delayed Epcor’s proposed purchase of the French Creek water utility; recognition of CUPE and its Island locals as key players in the debate around water privatization; creation of strong community Water Watch coalitions in Greater Victoria, Nanaimo, the Comox Valley and Campbell River; several hundred in attendance at a November public meeting in Parksville featuring Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians; more than 250 registered to the email list serve; release of an Ipsos-Reid public opinion survey showing very strong citizen opposition to water privatization; strengthened links across the Island with elected officials and community allies; rejection by Campbell River Council of a management proposal to contract out water monitoring and testing; and prominent media attention during the federal election to statements by Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative M.P. James Lunney supporting bulk water exports.
The next major battle will be in Union Bay, where a developer’s proposal to double the current population of the community includes a scheme by Terasen for private water and wastewater treatment plants as well as a private reservoir on a nearby lake. A healthy coalition is now in place in the Comox Valley to fight this plan.
On March 22nd, World Water Day will be marked across the Island with community events.
Medium term priorities include greater grassroots participation; help for newly elected municipal officials who support public water and passage of Council resolutions in support of public water.