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Water for people, not for profit was the rallying cry as CUPE and its allies marked World Water Day 2008.

Activists organized demonstrations, film screenings, public meetings and other events in the week leading up to March 22. CUPE also helped launch a coalition online action targeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament.

CUPE worked closely with allies at the Council of Canadians, Oxfam Canada and the Polaris Institute to encourage members to take action in coalition in their communities.


In Saint John’s, protesters from Oxfam, CUPE and the Council of Canadians marched to Conservative MP Norm Doyle’s office and delivered letters calling on Doyle and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to stop promoting water privatization, ban bulk water exports and recognize water as a human right.

“It’s mind boggling that we live in a world that would deny people access to something as basic as water,” Oxfam Canada campaigns coordinator and CUPE 2722 member Bill Hynd told the media.

“Canada must stop promoting water privatization through public private partnerships,” said CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador president Wayne Lucas.

“This Conservative government has been pushing municipalities into P3s for water and sewage services. P3s are bad public policy, an unwise use of tax dollars and lack accountability and transparency. Instead, cities and towns need increased federal funding to maintain and expand public water and wastewater systems,” said Lucas.

On the opposite coast, the campaign to keep Victoria’s new sewage treatment system in public hands is going strong. CUPE co-sponsored a well-attended forum marking World Water day that explored how communities in Canada and around the world are finding public sewage solutions that are clean, green and affordable.

David Boys, an international expert on water and sewage utilities with Public Services International and a member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said experience shows private solutions like the one being floated in Victoria don’t work. “The private sector is not a magic bullet for dealing with water or sanitation needs. It is simply not the case, as some government and corporations promise, that the private sector will be cheaper and more responsive.”

Cliff White, a veteran of the fight to keep Halifax’s sewage treatment public, shared lessons from the long - but ultimately successful - fight at the other end of the country.

“Rather than focusing on the best technology and the right approach, the main agenda was that of the private company – Suez. Don’t let your community discussion and decision be guided by the priorities of the private corporations,” said White of the Council of Canadians.

In Ottawa, freezing drizzle didn’t deter a group of Oxfam, CUPE, Council of Canadians and Polaris representatives. Sporting giant faucet hats made out of balloons, protestors carried a banner from the city’s human rights monument to Parliament Hill, and delivered a letter to Environment Minister John Baird’s office.

CUPE Québec and Oxfam Québec marked World Water Day with a water use calculator that highlights issues of water scarcity in the global south and challenges people to scrutinize their water use in Canada.

“In Quebec, like many other places around the world, large multinationals have set their sights on water, seeking to turn water into a commodity and source of profit. Water isn’t something to be bought and sold, it’s a fundamental right that meets a basic need for all humans,” said CUPE Quebec assistant regional director Michel Parenteau as he launched the water challenge with Oxfam Quebec ambassadors Sylvie Frechette, Judi Richards and Sophie Cadieux.

Across the country, CUPE supported and took part in screenings of the award-winning water privatization exposé Dead in the Water.

Water was also on the agenda at the recent CUPE Saskatchewan Division convention. Delegates passed a resolution making all CUPE Saskatchewan functions bottled water-free. The division will develop a union policy to promote public drinking water.

The Polaris Institute is encouraging campus groups to develop bottled water-free zones on campus, and CUPE is promoting the campaign to its post-secondary locals.

In another water-related event, CUPE representative Blair Redlin joined activists from Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians and Check your Head on a learning tour of the tar sands. Tar sands exploitation has serious consequences for water resources, human and environmental health – with those living downstream, mainly First Nations communities, feeling the impact first.

“Water for people, not profit” activities took place in cities across Canada including Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

In the early 1990s the United Nations chose March 22  as a day to highlight global water issues.