World Water Day theme shows why water shouldn’t be treated as a commodity

Ottawa (19 March 2021) — The theme of World Water Day 2021, Valuing Water, points to why water shouldn’t be treated as a commodity. What is meant by the value of water is “enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment” rather than just the price.

Recognizing that the value of water is far greater any monetary value reflects the idea that safe drinking water and sanitation should be a basic human right. Unfortunately, too often that right isn’t being respected.

First Nations waiting decades for safe drinking water

Last month, the Auditor General reported that there are still 41 First Nations that don’t have safe drinking water. Worse still, the Auditor General found that in many of those communities there is no plan in place to provide clean drinking water.

As the Assembly of First Nations recently pointed out, the federal government promised in 2019 that it would eliminate “all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by 2021 and ensure safe drinking water in First Nations.” It looks increasingly like that objective won’t be met and that the delays pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic. So, a situation that is a stain on our country’s reputation will be allowed to continue.

Privatization reduces water to a commodity

Where Canada also ignores the real value of water is with the privatization of water and sewer systems. Like any form of privatization, privatizing water and sewer systems means that profits come ahead of human needs. Instead of being recognized as something essential to human life, privatization treats water as a commodity. 

Unfortunately, federal government funds that should be going to help communities meet infrastructure needs have been used to encourage privatization. Successive federal governments have attempted to tie at least some federal infrastructure funds to the use of P3 privatization schemes, with the Canada Infrastructure Bank being the latest example.

Growing recognition of the value of water

The good news is there is growing recognition of the real value of water. Canadians are increasingly angry about the failure of the federal government to provide safe drinking water to First Nations. The privatization of several water and sewer systems has been reversed. Last year, the Township of Mapleton rejected plans to use a P3 privatization scheme for its water and sewer system, even though the Canada Infrastructure Bank to offered the municipality $20 million to help with a P3. 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE