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Barlow criticizes Ontario pension fund’s global acquisition of private water services

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has tweeted:

She cites a Bloomberg article that reports, “Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board [the pension funds for the federal public service, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police] agreed to acquire a stake in a portfolio of more than $2 billion of renewable energy and water infrastructure assets owned by Banco Santander SA [Spain’s biggest bank].”

It’s not clear at this point what water infrastructure this deal includes, but Santander has previously owned shares in Thames Water in England and the Chilean water utility Aguas Nuevas.

The OTPP currently owns shares in for-profit water utilities in Chile – Empresa de Servicios Sanitarios del Bio-Bio SA (ESSBIO), Esval SA and Aguas Nuevo Sur Maule (ANSM) – and shares in the British for-profit water utility Northumbrian Water Plc, which sells its water services to about 4.4 million ‘customers’ in England.

In November 2014, the Council of Canadians and numerous allies in Europe, Canada and Quebec released a paper titled Trading Away Democracy. That report stated that, “CETA’s investor protections would arguably grant even greater rights to foreign investors than NAFTA, increasing the risk that foreign investors will use CETA to constrain future government policy.”

In terms of the OTPP and its water assets, the pension fund, armed with the investor-state provision in CETA, would be in a strong position to sue a future British government for lost profits should one decide to act in the public interest and remunicipalize its water services. The Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement contains a similar provision.

The Council of Canadians continues to call on the OTPP to divest from its ownership of for-profit water utilities.

Further reading
Europeans should be wary of Ontario pension fund’s ownership of airports and water services (December 2014 blog)
Ontario teachers must support water justice in Chile (September 2011 blog by Meera Karunananthan)
CETA would hinder water remunicipalization in England (November 2013 blog)