Happy World Water
For over 25 years, the Council of Canadians has been calling for a national water strategy.
This year water justice activists and citizens are being joined by more and more politicians, banks and companies wanting to also chime in and celebrate the importance and value of water.
There is broad consensus that the poor management of Canada’s water is due, in part, to the fragmented patchwork of legislation across 13 jurisdictions and at least four levels of government.
All agree that water is of interest, but the real question is whose interest?
Over and above the piecemeal homemade set of public laws, Canada’s water is also subject to private deals designed to facilitate corporate investment rights: Yes, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), again. Here are two examples:
Quebec wanted to protect its watershed by banning the use and sale of lawn pesticides Ã including 2,4-D, a chemical produced by American chemical giant Dow AgroSciences. NAFTA enables Dow to challenge the Quebec ban under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
AbitibiBowater closed its Newfoundland operation which was based on publicly owned resources including water. Rather than settle its affairs in Canada where it located its business and made its money, the corporation used multinational status to launch a NAFTA challenge.
Prime Minister Harper awarded $130-million of taxpayers’ money to AbitibiBowater, creating a dangerous precedent whereby foreign investors can claim a proprietary right to the water loaned to them by the provinces for economic production.
NAFTA is not alone. CETA, the Canada Ã EU free trade deal, is now being negotiated (in secret as usual). How will it affect Canada’s water sovereignty remains to be seen, citizens are certainly not welcome.
Whose water is it? Canada aggressively pursues free trade at the same time as having no clear and enforceable water standards for all users at home.
There is certainly no proof that corporations handle water more efficiently or fairly. There is simply no evidence to demonstrate that free trade agreements are good for either Canadian exports, or for Canadian trade balances Ã see economist Jim Stanford’s recent report, Out of Equilibrium, for a performance review of these deals.
So-called free trade appears to be more about situating investor rights ahead of government regulation.
This world water day, the Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians is once again asking the question:
Is water the public interest of the common ecosystem and all that lives there, or the private interest of businesses to profit owners?
We say this year, let’s take responsibility for our own water and get it out of NAFTA.
Tory Russell and Connie Dublenko
Council of Canadians,Whitehorse chapter