Our water is for sale

Private companies are coming for your water and the federal government is welcoming them with open arms. But you and I can stop this from happening. In this minority government, we can use our position as the people’s Balance of Power to stand up for water.

As you may know, the federal government, under both Liberal and Conservative leadership, has been aggressively promoting the privatization of our water and wastewater infrastructure and services for decades. These critical pieces to building healthy and equitable communities are being sold to the highest bidder.

Although most municipalities own and operate our drinking water and sewage treatment plants, the infrastructure is deteriorating as cities and towns face budget pressures and chronic underfunding. This is where the federal government could step in with low-cost public funding for municipalities. Instead, the government is welcoming the private sector to take over these public services by pushing public-private partnerships (P3s).

In 2017, the Trudeau government established the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, with a goal of involving private P3 partners in 80 per cent of their projects.

Privatizing drinking water and sewage treatment services directly threatens our human right to water. P3 projects cost more, eliminate jobs, lack transparency and exclude municipalities from the decision-making process. Our communities are left paying the price. Private providers charge on average 59 per cent more per households for water and 63 per cent more for sewer compared to the public option.

Communities across the country are facing the prospect of having their water privatized. Earlier this year, the Canadian Infrastructure Bank announced a $20 million investment in the town of Mapleton in Wellington County, Ontario. This was billed as an “innovative financing approach” to upgrade the town’s wastewater infrastructure.

While this investment might sound promising, it means Mapleton is signing away control of their water for two decades. Mapleton residents will be paying higher rates for higher project costs – and the profits will go to private shareholders instead of being reinvested in their community.

Smaller, rural municipalities like Mapleton are most susceptible to privatization pressure through the Canadian Infrastructure Bank. In Newfoundland and Labrador, municipalities are facing a 2020 deadline to upgrade their sewage treatment plants at an estimated cost of $600 million. In the absence of federal funding, they’re eyeing P3 options as a short-term solution to the huge price tag.

What could this look like in your community? Let me paint a picture for you.

Shortly after signing a 10-year P3 deal for their water systems, residents of Hamilton, Ontario woke up one day to find 135 million litres of raw sewage spilling into the harbour and flooding in their basements and small businesses. In the following years, the city saw its water services workforce slashed in half as project costs ballooned, and the contract changed hands four times. The City of Hamilton ultimately took water back into public hands, saving the city and its residents millions of dollars.

Like Hamilton, many municipalities have fought back privatization. Mapleton and the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador can fight back too – and win.

The Council of Canadians launched the Blue Communities Project in 2009 for this very purpose. Over the last decade, close to 30 communities in Canada have used the principles and tools of the Blue Communities Project to keep or take back control over their water – including the city of Montreal earlier this year!

To learn more about our Blue Communities Project check out this short video and download our free guide.

Now more than ever, we need communities to come together to protect water as a public trust.

With a newly elected minority federal government, we have a powerful opportunity to hold our decision makers accountable. The Council of Canadians has a critical role to play as the people’s Balance of Power, and you can play an important role.

As we continue to hold that balance of power, we must safeguard our fundamental rights to public water and sanitation, and fight off the creeping corporate influence and false solutions coming from the Canada Infrastructure Bank.