Here are some grains of unsettling data to stir into your morning cup of “joe”…..
· Over 150,000,000,000 (that’s BILLIONS) litres of untreated, or undertreated sewage is dumped into Canadian waterways each year (Environment Canada)….That’s about 4 time the average flow of the Ottawa River!
· Victoria and Esquimalt cities dump about 130 million litres of raw sewage every DAY into the Strait of Juan de Fuca
· Ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71% between 1973 and 2010 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
· Glaciers hold as much water as all that is contained in Canada’s lakes and rivers….there are 17,000 glaciers in British Columbia…
· Glacial coverage on the Alberta side of the Canadian Rockies has declined by 25% and 300 glaciers have been lost in last 3 decades
· Researchers have detected traces of acetaminophen, codeine, antibiotics, hormones, steroids and anti-epileptic compounds in the Great Lakes at levels high enough to be of “environmental concern” (CBC)
· A 2014 study of the Great Lakes by the U.S.-based 5 Gyres Institute found 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer; near cities the number jumped to 466,000.
These are just a few of the many arresting pieces of information contained in a new book by Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a social justice think tank. The book, entitled, Boiling Point, Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, was available to Barlow’s recent audience in the Grad Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontaio.
Here is a quote from the Canada Water Act of 1985, a federal government statute, outlining the core of the federal-provincial shared, and thereby extremely complex oversight of Canada’s water resources:
the Minister may, with the approval of the Governor in Council, enter into an arrangement with one or more provincial governments to establish, on a national, provincial, regional, lake or river-basin basis, intergovernmental committees or other bodies
One of the many signs of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction, shared power and thereby frequently unattainable “action” can be seen here, given the overlapping footprints of this extremely important and highly threatened resource, really a human requirement, access to clean water.
The United Nations has expressed itself on the human right to clean water.
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. Article I.1 states that "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights". Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.
· Resolution A/RES/64/292. United Nations General Assembly, July 2010
· General Comment No. 15. The right to water. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002
Implementation, however, only occurs when and where the “rubber meets the road.” And, for example, although the Canadian government has recently announced its intent to move the hundreds of First Nations communities off “boiled water advisories” in Canada, by the year 2020, the issue of whether water is to be an authentic human right remains under a big cloud of confusion.
Just yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that her government would be reviewing a policy that currently permits Nestle to purchase ground water from Ontario wells at a price of $3.71 for one million litres. Not only is this policy stripping the ground water from the south-western Ontario wells, Nestle then turns around and bottles and sells the water back to Ontarians for $1+ per bottle. And Nestle is only one of many large corporations dependent on the access to clean water for the production of their products.
So the question of whether or not water is “for sale” or is a human right, is one of the major issues facing jurisdictions around the world. And herein lies the nexus of the fight between “public” access to fresh, clean, water and “private” for-profit corporations’ ownership of that water.
In a “grass-roots” approach to raising consciousness about water issues, and to push back on the “sale” of clean water, The Council of Canadians with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has initiated a Blue Communities project.
On the Blue Communities guide, we find these words:
The recognition of water as a human right in Canada would ensure that all people living in this country are legally entitled to sufficient quantities of safe, clean drinking water and water for sanitation, and would require that access inequalities be addressed immediately. Unfortunately, water is not officially recognized as a human right by the federal government. On the other hand, the rights of corporations, whose activities drain, contaminate and destroy watersheds, are protected in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other international trade and investment agreements. Internationally, the Canadian government has also actively prevented the recognition of water as a human right at key United Nations (UN) meetings. In 2002, Canada was the only country to vote against the right to drinking water and sanitation at hearings of the UN Commission on Human Rights (now known as the Human Rights Council). The Canadian government has said that water is an important issue and that countries are responsible for ensuring their populations have access to water. But Canada has clearly stated it does not believe that international law should recognize the existence of a right to water.
Paris joins Blue Communities
From the Council of Canadians website, here is a progress report on the Blue Communities project
Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow was in Paris, France today to present a blue community certificate to deputy mayor Celia Blauel.
Barlow stated, “We applaud Paris for taking the bold new step to protect water as a commons by becoming a Blue Community today. The global water crisis is getting more serious by the day and it is being made worse by the corporate theft and abuse of water. Becoming a Blue Community like Paris has today is a critical step toward the stewardship of water locally and globally that we need now and for future generations."
A 'blue community' is a municipality (or university, church, First Nation or association) that adopts a framework that:
· recognizes water as a human right
· prevents the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events
· promotes publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.
On March 22, 2011, Burnaby, British Columbia became the first blue community in Canada. On September 18, 2013, Bern, Switzerland became the first international blue community. And on January 12, 2015, Tsal'alh, St’át’imc Territory became the first Indigenous blue community. The University of Bern and the Evangelisch-reformierte Kirchgemeinde Bern-Johannes Church have also become blue communities.
The largest blue communities in this country are Burnaby (population 223,220), St. Catharines (131,990), Ajax, (109,600), Thunder Bay (108,359), and North Vancouver (84,412). All together, there are now 1,034,515 people in Canada who live in communities recognized as blue communities. Internationally, there is now Paris (population 2.244 million), Bern (130,015) and Cambuquira (13,299) for a total of 2,387,314 people.
When Barlow presented the first European blue community certificate in Switzerland, she said, "It is my fervent hope that your undertaking today will be the beginning of a European-wide movement that will one day reach across the whole world."
Canada has, for decades, held the cultural “myth” that we are an inexhaustible source of fresh water. Not only is that not based in empirical evidence, what clean fresh water that does currently exist in Canada is under serious threat.
· the legal entanglement of federal-provincial shared power,
· the current cultural “for-profit” thrust in the ideology of free trade agreements, granting inordinate powers to for-profit corporations,
· the rising tide of both pollution and the resulting global warming and climate change
taken together make for a political ethos in which the push to provide clean water to all people is fraught with many perils.
The Council of Canadians’ rejection of corporate funds is just another indication of the depth of their commitment to the concept of “public” ownership of this most valuable, precious and threatened source of life.
Attempting to make allies, and to generate Blue Communities around the world, demonstrating the narrow but significant “municipal” autonomy on this important, if vexing, issue in the current highly competitive and complex environment is not only a worthy and noble objective, it may well be the signal issue project of our time.
And it needs the kind of financial support that a campaign like the one Bernie Sanders generated in his campaign for the presidency of the United States, based on contributions averaging $27….The millions of contributors gave him the largest ‘war chest’ of the candidates, at the time when he was still in the race.
Can such a campaign be generated to save the world’s clean fresh water and the human right to its access?