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In what can only be described as a descent into utter irrationality, the town council in Walkerton, Ont., plans to request bids for water services from private water companies. Council expects bids from multinational and local companies.

Five years ago, contaminated water led to an E. coli outbreak that killed seven people here and made 2,500 others sick. At the time, the water system was publicly run, but the operators had little training and there were no checks and balances on water safety. Prior to the Walkerton tragedy, the Mike Harris government slashed the number of water safety inspectors in the province, compromising water safety.

Since 2000, the publicly owned Ontario Clean Water Agency has run Walkerton’s water and wastewater systems to exacting standards. The agency’s contract expires at the end of this year, but it has publicly stated that it would continue water services even without a contract. Essentially, privatization-minded forces on council are playing up the contract’s expiry to force a quick deal with a private company.

Walkerton need look no further than Hamilton for an example of what water privatization can do in terms of destroying a system. For nine years, five different companies held the contract to manage Hamilton’s water. There were rate increases, high legal fees, expensive contract monitoring and costly freedom of information requests while the city’s water system was privatized.

When 180 million litres of raw sewage leaked into the city’s harbour on Philips United Water Corp.’s watch, the company abdicated responsibility and the city was left with a massive environmental and financial mess. Now Hamilton’s publicly run system is getting high marks for safety and efficiency.

Walkerton council can choose to institute a public system that is economical, accountable and safe. Walkerton residents deserve better than the instability delivered by private water companies.