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NEWS: Costs and CETA implications of federal wastewater regulations

Postmedia News reports, “Municipalities across Canada are urging the federal government to take a second look at the tax hike implications of proposed regulations to crack down on water pollution from sewage treatment plants. Although Environment Canada has previously estimated in internal briefing notes that it would cost about $20 billion over two decades to address threats to human and environmental health from existing wastewater infrastructure, the department has publicly estimated the price tag of its proposed regulations at $10 to $13 billion over 30 years.”

As we’ve noted in previous blogs, Vancouver would need about $2 billion in investments to meet the proposed standards; for Laval, Quebec it would cost $250 million; the cost to St. Anthony, a town of 2,700, would be $15 million (which has an annual budget of $2 million).

“Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly and other Atlantic Canada mayors adopted a resolution Thursday calling on the federal government to revise its estimates and develop a cost-sharing plan between the three levels of government to achieve the regulations as part of a larger long-term infrastructure plan. They also noted previous estimates that have identified $123 billion in spending required to bring municipal infrastructure up to acceptable levels and have asked their national umbrella group, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to launch a national campaign to resolve these issues.”

The draft regulations were first introduced in March 2010. “The briefing material suggested that the regulations were slated to be implemented by the spring of 2011, but the government has not yet introduced a final plan.” In late-November 2011, CBC reported, “Environment Canada’s Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations are expected to be finalized by the end of this year.”

CETA implications
In May 2010, Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan submitted our comments to the federal government on these regulations during a brief comment period. She wrote, “The government’s regulatory impact analysis statement describes the need to harmonize Canadian wastewater standards with those of the Europe Union. European municipalities are facing financial constraints in meeting EU standards – something that was recently identified in the Global Water Intelligence, a yearly industry report, as an opportunity for investment in wastewater infrastructure. With Canada currently negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, which has the backing of the French water corporation Suez, the Council of Canadians fears that a lack of adequate funding and capacity building for public wastewater services, will leave the door wide open to European water corporations seeking investments in Canada.”

This past February, trade campaigner Stuart Trew wrote, “(In the Canada-European Union trade negotiations) the EU (felt) it necessary in its services and investment offers to seek a broad exemption for drinking water and sanitation services — an exemption Canada is not seeking. The discrepancy remains unexplained. Canadian governments and negotiators have for years assured us that water for human use is not covered in Canada’s existing commitments. Now the tune has changed — it’s there and it’s not a big deal! In fact, it would be very easy for Canada to reciprocate the EU request to exempt water. The fact we are not doing so is still a kind of welcome mat for European private investment in water services. The novelty will be in CETA’s investor-state dispute process which will give water firms new tools with which to frustrate municipal governments looking to remunicipalize or create new water monopolies in the future.”

That all said, we have our work cut out for us on this front. A June 2011 Environics Research Group poll conducted for CUPE found that just 52 per cent of Canadians oppose the opening up of water and waste treatment to companies in Europe, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9485.

Overall, in terms of these federal wastewater regulations, we have called for full public consultation and a process to involve Indigenous communities and local governments in developing a strategy to address wastewater treatment needs throughout the country. For the full text of our submission, http://canadians.org/water/documents/wastewater-reg-0510.pdf. In December 2010, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees released a report – Public Water for Sale: How Canada will privatize our public water systems – which exposes how CETA would open up public municipal water systems across Canada to privatization. The 30-page report can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=4969 and http://canadians.org/trade/documents/CETA/water-report-1210.pdf.