The federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada are currently negotiating a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union that presents a serious threat to Canada’s public water systems. I have written about the threat of CETA before but now that the federal election is drawing closer we need to be vigilant in pressing our local MPs about this issue. My previous concern was that this trade pact would open up municipal jobs to the European private sector. It gets worse.
in solidarity – Alex
Read the Executive Summary – the full report is linked. Public Water for Sale: How Canada will Privatize Our Public Water Systems
The federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada are currently negotiating a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union that presents a serious threat to Canada’s public water systems. At the request of Europe’s large private water companies, the provinces and territories are considering including drinking water and wastewater services in their CETA commitments. EU negotiators are also asking that Canada’s municipalities and their water utilities be included in a chapter on public procurement. Initial provincial-territorial offers in services, procurement and investment will be sent to the European Commission early in January 2011.
If CETA is negotiated on these terms, it would be the first time that Canada has allowed our drinking water to be fully covered under a trade treaty and the first instance that a trade agreement has covered municipal procurement of water services. The services and procurement commitments proposed in CETA would be protected by strong investor rights. The effect of these rights as they relate to the services and procurement provisions would be to lock in existing private water contracts, restrict how local governments regulate the activity and investment of private water companies, and to encourage more private sector involvement in a number of public service sectors, including water.
The federal, provincial and territorial governments are being asked to make these commitments to the EU during what has been described as an infrastructure crisis in Canada. Municipalities and First Nations communities are under pressure to upgrade aging water facilities, and to meet new environmental and safety legislation without access to proper financial resources. At least $31 billion is needed to cover the cost of the facility upgrades, and the estimated cost of the new sanitation regulations is $20 billion. Not surprisingly, the private water industry sees leaky pipes as an opportunity to increase its role in water delivery and treatment. Existing government programs, including the Building Canada Plan, and funding initiatives under Public Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada Inc.), encourage privatization as a condition of receiving federal money for municipal infrastructure projects.
Experiments with privatization have failed all over the world, and a growing trend in Europe, the United States and Latin America is toward remunicipalization (or de-privatization) of private and P3 water projects. Time and again, partial or full privatization of water systems has been a disaster; accountability disappears, water rates go up, workers are laid off, service levels decline. Once public revenues are transformed into private profits remunicipalization will become next to impossible under the services, investment and procurement rules set out in CETA. There are no economic or social gains from agreeing to the EU requests as they relate to water services. There are only unnecessary and costly risks to Canada’s municipalities and First Nations.
Provincial, territorial and municipal governments must take immediate action to protect Canada’s public water systems from decay and privatization. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, solving the infrastructure crisis in municipalities and First Nations communities is a matter of political will, not adequate funding. First, government procurement and trade-in-services commitments related to water systems must be rejected in CETA. Provincial and territorial governments must work with municipalities and the federal government to develop a public funding plan to upgrade Canada’s neglected water infrastructure. Finally, all levels of government must be transparent with Canadians about the effect that CETA will have on the provision of public services and development of social policy. They should seek informed consent from Canadians on what provisions a trade agreement with the EU should and should not include.