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VIEW: ‘Teachers’ pension plan feels heat over Chile water deal’, says Daw

Columnist James Daw writes in the Toronto Star today that, “A leading champion for Canada’s water supplies is chiding the investment managers and Ontario teachers for investing $1.1 billion in Chile’s water systems.”

“The chair of the Council of Canadians, a 70,000-member public advocacy group, says it’s fundamentally wrong for our public educators to profit from owning essential public services. The campaign led by Maude Barlow strikes at the heart of investment strategies at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, which is the lead investor in companies controlling 37 per cent of Chile’s water and sewage services.”

“Working on behalf of labour, human rights and environmental movements in Chile, Barlow met last Thursday with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation. ‘I’m steamed,’ the energetic volunteer declared afterward. Her colleague Meera Karunananthan was no happier after meeting later the same day with Jim Leech, president of the OTPP.”

“Both the umbrella group for teachers’ unions and Leech argued it’s the role of the pension managers, indeed their legal obligation, to pursue the best financial interests of pension plan members. But Barlow predicts profit-driven ownership of water supplies, dams, roads, ports, airports, hospitals and schools will put the living standards of the poor and middle class in other countries at risk. ‘In Chile and other places it’s a matter of justice as water becomes privatized and the rates are set by the market. Those who cannot afford to pay those rates go without,’ she said in an interview.”

“Meanwhile, pension plans put their members’ savings at risk if they fail to factor in the risk of public backlash, or natural disasters like the severe earthquake that struck Saturday near Chile’s coast. …Beyond the earthquake, there is always the risk a change in government could lead to nationalization of private assets. …It’s hard to get full value when there’s only one buyer.”

Daw concludes, “That said, countries around the world are recognizing there can be advantages to private ownership. …What’s critical is to have both the local government and the foreign investor act in the public interest. Failure to do so can lead to public unrest.”

He then writes, “For Barlow to succeed in her campaign, Ontario’s government would have to pass legislation to block investments in regulated industries. That would not be in our public interest, and it may not be in Chile’s.”

We disagree with Mr. Daw on his last point. We believe that the pension plan of Ontario’s public school teachers should not be invested in (and thereby promoting) private for-profit water systems anywhere in the world. We also believe that the province of Ontario should recognize the human right to water and govern its activities and pension plans accordingly.

If you are a teacher, or a former teacher, please sign the petition calling on the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to divest from private water in Chile at http://canadians.org/water/issues/OTPP/pledge/index.php.

Daw’s column can be read at http://www.thestar.com/business/article/773546–teachers-pension-plan-feels-heat-over-chile-water-deal.