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Teachers must support public water

When asked about their investments in private Chilean water utilities, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension told the Canadian Press, Chile was a democratic country. Beside the fact that by that measure most of the world’s environmentally hazardous projects or developments that violate human rights are open for OTPP investments, there is nothing democratic about water privatization in Chile. The gutting of public services during the Pinochet years paved the way for privatization down the road. In the late 1990s, subsequent governments carried this legacy forward at a time when there was tremendous pressure from Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank to privatize public services as a loan condition. The decision to allow corporations to sell vital water and sanitation services to communities for a profit had nothing to do with what the people wanted. Mass protests were held throughout the country against rate hikes that left lower income households without access to water.
Despite strong public opposition, acccording to Public Citizen in the U.S., the World Bank’s 2000-2006 lending plan required further privatization of water services. Eventually, Chile went from almost entirely publicly-run water services in 1998 to 97 per cent private services by 2008.

In August 2007, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan bought stocks in the Chilean water utilities ESSBIO, ANSM and ESVAL through its investment unit, Inversiones Southwater. The OTPP actively participates in the running of these private water companies, with two representatives on each of the boards. Since 2007, Southwater has added further acquisitions and now controls 37 per cent of the private water services market in Chile, making the OTPP one of the biggest investors in private water in the country. This investment is worth $1.1 billion.

Today, a coalition of Chilean civil society organizations are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would have public water and sanitation services recognized as a human right. Canadian teachers have a role to play in this campaign. Earlier this year, Chilean labour groups appealed to the OTPP to join them in developing a strategy to transition from private to public. If the OTPP were to cooperate, it would place additional pressure on the Chilean government from an unexpected source – something Chilean groups were counting on. Unfortunately, the OTPP and the Ontario Teachers’ Federation which co-manages the Plan with the Ontario government have not responded to the request from Chilean groups.

Last Wednesday, the Council of Canadians took the campaign directly to teachers and support staff. We set up an information station at the Toronto District School Board’s professional development day at the Air Canada Centre where 20,000 teachers were gathered.

If the OTPP insists on making revenues from selling water and sanitation services in the Global South, they should hear from members who feel differently. It is time for the OTPP to ensure that the funds of Ontario’s teachers and support staff are managed wisely and ethically.

Members of the OTPP are urged to sign a pledge calling on the OTPP to support public water in Chile at:

Blog post written by Meera Karunananthan, National Water Campaigner, Council of Canadians