Canadian Union Denounces Private Water Ownership

No matter what the corporate lobbyists claim, public ownership and operation beats the private sector hands down when it comes to ensuring safe, clean drinking water, says the union representing many of Canada's water workers.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees wrapped up its participation in the Walkerton Inquiry with an urgent call to strengthen and improve public water systems, not hand away ownership and control to the private sector. The call came in a paper detailing the private sector's failures in key areas including financing, accountability, community control and quality of water systems.

"As this inquiry draws to a close, we need to be sure it doesn't open the door to the water multinationals. Based on the evidence in our submission, we say the jury's back and the verdict is clear - the private sector can't match the quality, accountability and affordability of public water systems.

Privatizing our water is absolutely the wrong choice, and could in fact seriously compromise safety," said CUPE National President Judy Darcy.

This presentation is one of several CUPE interventions at the inquiry into last year's contaminated water tragedy. Through this and earlier submissions, CUPE has stressed the need to improve the patchwork system of drinking water protection across the province - a call that echoes across the entire country.

"The privateers can't wait to get their hands on Ontario's water - and they're circling like vultures, ready to capitalize on the tragedy in Walkerton. And Mike Harris is aiding and abetting that feeding frenzy. It's simply no solution. We need a well-regulated, well-funded public system that serves the public interest, not private profit," said CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan.

Recommendations in CUPE's submission to the public hearing on management of water providers and laboratories, include:

• An immediate halt to Ontario provincial government measures promoting water privatization;

• An improved training and certification program for water and wastewater operators;

• A call for the province to work with the federal government and municipalities to implement grants and interest-free loans to municipalities to upgrade water systems;

• New pricing and costing structures for water that factor in long-term operation and upgrades, while assuring access to water for all;

• Stringent public consultation, transparency and accountability requirements for all water systems.

A CUPE-commissioned research paper presented to an earlier expert panel on the implications of privatization detailed the many failures of British water privatization a decade after its introduction. In addition, CUPE worked in partnership with the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union on a major paper demonstrating the value of public ownership and operation of the province's water systems.

CUPE is Canada's largest municipal union, representing water workers in every province. Across the country, CUPE represents a half million women and men working in health care, emergency services, education, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation and airlines. Since 1997, CUPE has been campaigning for well-funded, strong public water systems.

To read CUPE's final submission including the full text of all 13 recommendations, as well as CUPE's earlier submissions to the inquiry, visit


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