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Water World

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Under the FTAA, water treatment itself will be labelled an environmental service. The whole idea of public water systems could be challenged by companies as a monopoly. This would force us to contract our water services out to the highest bidder, which would open the doors to multinational water companies such as Vivendi and Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux.

One Canadian author argues that the concern over the sovereignty of fresh water is moot. Marq de Villiers, the author of "Water" – which won the 1999 Governor General’s Award for non-fiction – argues that there is no market for Canada’s water. The cost of shipping it to Asia or Europe is prohibitive, and far more expensive that the cost of new desalination technology that allows countries to convert seawater to fresh water. "The whole debate is about something purely hypothetical," de Villiers told CBC News. "There is no market. We are getting our nationalist shorts in a knot over NAFTA and free trade, but water is not an issue."

While he may be right and there is no lasting foreign market for Canada’s fresh water, and it might be a good idea to profit from it while we still can, there’s still the issue of Canada’s domestic water.

More than 30 million people using over 350 litres a day, per capita (we’re second in the world in water wasting, next to the U.S.) is a potential market.

Anywhere that water has been privatized in the past, rates have gone up. Canadians could wind up in a position where we’re forced to buy our water back from foreign companies who are operating for a profit.

In 1999, the Bechtel Group – one of the companies shortlisted to operate the Seymour filtration plant – assumed control over water in Cochabamba, Bolivia, with the help of the World Bank. The company immediately doubled its rates.

The outraged public organized a general strike that brought the city to its knees. The Bolivian government, overwhelmed by the situation, was forced to nullify Bechtel’s contract. Furthermore, whenever water has been privatized in the U.S., rates have doubled or tripled.

Mills, the Liberal MP who will chair September’s hearings on water exports, denied that the Liberals were caving on the issue, but said it would be wise to look into the nature of water treatment and the export of water treatment technology to developing nations.

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