News Release: Environmentalist calls for water utility privatization

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

In Liquid Assets, a book released today by the University of Toronto, environmentalist Elizabeth Brubaker calls for the privatization of Canada’s water and wastewater utilities.

Arguing that public provision has not served Canadians well, Brubaker cites a litany of problems with the country’s water and wastewater services. Underfunded, badly operated, and ineffectively regulated, hundreds of municipal systems threaten public health and the environment, Brubaker charges.

More than two years have passed since contaminated water killed seven people and made 2,300 ill in Walkerton, Ontario. “People widely referred to Walkerton as a wake-up call, but many utilities and regulators are still sleeping,” says Brubaker, who authored a study for the inquiry into the tragedy.

From Newfoundland, where 193 communities must boil their water, to BC, where the number is still higher, water providers regularly expose millions of Canadians to unsafe drinking water. Even major cities are not immune: Vancouver residents with weakened immune systems face a standing order to boil their drinking water.

Public utilities in some of Canada’s largest cities likewise foul harbours, lakes, and rivers with untreated sewage.

Liquid Assets examines privatization in England, France, and the United States. It concludes that the sale of treatment plants or the contracting out of their operations and maintenance has often brought capital investment, expertise, innovation, and efficiency to utilities. It has also brought stricter regulation, by curbing the conflicts of interest that prevent governments that own, finance, or operate water systems from enforcing the laws that govern them.

Liquid Assets, released by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Public Management, is one of a series of monographs on public policy and public administration. Series editor Andrew Stark, Professor of Strategic Management and Political Science, calls the book “a vital and timely entrant in the debate.”

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