The vast majority of water and wastewater systems in Canada are owned, operated and maintained within the public sector. Essential to our public health system, municipal water systems were one of the first major services to be publicly delivered in Canada. The reason why water infrastructure is overwhelmingly public is because the private sector could not be relied upon to deliver a quality service at a price that all residents could afford. It's therefore ironic that water corporations from rich countries like our own are now trying to persuade developing countries not to develop water resources publicly but to experiment with the private sector instead. What's more, the belief that the private sector can manage our public water resources is now gaining ground in Canadian government and policy circles.
The Private Threat to Public Water
The commercialization of water is creeping forward through the private treatment and delivery of drinking water, through proposals for bulk water exports to the U.S. and through the bottling of municipally treated water for resale by private companies. Not surprisingly, private interests increasingly view water as a source of profit. A May, 2000 edition of Fortune magazine foretold that water would be to the Twenty-first Century what oil was to the Twentieth. Instead of "black gold," we will have "blue gold."
At the same time, our water infrastructure is aging, with estimates of Canada's public water infrastructure deficit in the $50-billion range. Investment is required, and difficult choices have to be made by all levels of government on how best to manage Canada's freshwater resources. For First Nations communities, the issues are even more urgent. Earlier this year, CBC News' in-depth feature, "Slow Boil," reported that drinking water in two thirds of First Nations communities is at risk. Seventy-six First Nations communities are currently under boil-water advisories, and 62 per cent of water operators aren't properly certified. …