The Toronto Chapter of the Council of Canadians held their Second Annual Water Forum called Healthy Water Healthy Cities. It was a day filled with engaging speakers, lively discussions and creative brainstorming sessions. The room quickly filled with over 70 people and remained at well over 70 throughout the day.
Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Project Organizer, kicked off the event with an energizing presentation about the UN resolutions on the right to water passed last year, the Kalahari Bushmen decision and how we can use the UN resolutions to implement the right to water in Canada. He wrapped up his talk by stressing the importance of seeing the Great Lakes as a commons. Anil highlighted that protecting the Great Lakes meant seeing the threats to the Great Lakes as multi-faceted and interconnected and that we need to reach across the border to our brothers and sisters in the U.S. People need to establish their relationship to the Great Lakes and come together under the aegis of the commons.
Robert Fleming from Waterloo Watch and Canadians Opposed to Flouridation/Canadiens Opposés à la Fluoration (COF-COF) gave an informative and impassioned talk on the dangers of fluoridation. Lino Grima from the Centre for the Environment (University of Toronto) talked about wastewater and combined sewer overflow. Karen Buck from Citizens for a Safe Environment gave a interesting presentation on the practical solution of rain gardens.
Archana Rampure, researcher for CUPE, and Stuart Trew, trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians, discussed the dangers of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The 7th round of negotiations will occur mid-April with the hope that an agreement will be signed by October or the end of this year. This is the most far reaching trade agreement to date. Provinces are at the negotiating table which has never happened before. For the first time drinking and wastewater services are on the table threatening to open the door to water privatization in Canada. Canada and Europe are negotiating the inclusion of a chapter on public procurement which will give corporations the right to make bids for our public services. If CETA is finalized with a chapter on public procurement, European companies can file for compensation, which will be paid by Canadian tax dollars, if a panel rules that they should have won a bid. The provinces will be making their offers by the end of the month. Archana and Stuart stressed the importance of contacting government at all levels to ensure that our water and wastewater services, transportation, affordable medicine and other public services that we value are protected.
After a morning of riveting presentations, the Toronto Chapter organized break-out sessions to provide participants with the opportunity to discuss ideas. Sessions were held on the Great Lakes as a commons, CETA and drinking water. Stuart, Archana and I participated in the session on CETA with nearly 30 participants. We focused on ways to protect Lake Ontario from privatization and how to blow the whistle on CETA. Participants suggested creative ideas including making Youtube videos to raise awareness and stressed the importance of pressing the provinces to opt out of CETA. Alexa Bradley and Julie Riatsu from On the Commons joined Anil in the session on the Great Lakes as a commons.
A clip from Water Life, a film by Kevin McMahon about the Great Lakes was shown. It introduced the Mother Earth Water Walk, a walk around the Great Lakes that began in 2003. The Water Walk was initiated by Josephine Mandamin and other Anishinawbe women to raise awareness to the importance of the Great Lakes and water in general. Anil and I had the pleasure of interviewing Josephine and will post the interview on our website shortly. Robert Lovelace gave a thought-provoking talk on ‘re-indigenizing’ the commons. Elaine MacDonald wrapped up the day with a presentation about the new wastewater regulations.
The forum provided a lot of food for thought on our relationship, right and responsibility to water.