By Kyle Buott
President of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and member of Solidarity Halifax
Water rates could be going up by 30%. (1) Halifax Water, the publicly owned utility providing water, sewer and wastewater services to most of HRM, has applied to the Utility and Review Board for a major water rate hike. There is a hearing on April 15th. The rate hike will probably go through since the UARB rubberstamps most rate hike applications. (Remember Nova Scotia Power?)
After electricity rate hikes, bus fee hikes, government user fee increases and more, workers and their families are now expected to swallow a major hike in water rates too. The cost of utilities and basic services is out of control.
So what’s going on? Who is responsible for this rate hike? What can we do about it?
Halifax Water says the rate hike is necessary because we need to do $2.6 billion in repairs and improvements to our water, sewer and wastewater systems over the next 30 years. A large part of the cost of these repairs comes from new federal water quality standards that must be met, as well as the cost of replacing outdated infrastructure, like lead pipes. In general, these standards and upgrades are a good thing that should increase water quality and public confidence in our water systems.
The rate hike is happening though because the federal government decided to force municipalities to pay the cost of adopting these new standards by themselves. The federal government sets the standards but is investing very little in public infrastructure. What little investment does occur often requires privatization or P3s – public-private partnerships. As we’ve learned in Nova Scotia where we’ve had P3 schools, roads and nursing homes, P3s mean private profits and public pain. (2)
Putting ourselves at risk by privatizing our water should never be on the table. Water is a human right and necessary for all life. Water is not a commodity and should not be bought and sold on stock exchanges. That’s why we have public utilities, accountable to the people, to guarantee access to safe drinking water.
We, the people of this city, need investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, but under capitalism the government closest to the people is starved of the resources it needs to provide the services people need. Municipal governments provide many of the public services we use on a daily basis like local roads, sidewalks, garbage, recycling, compost, rec centres, hockey rinks, libraries, beaches, police and fire protection, and much more. Yet municipalities receive only 8 cents for every tax dollar in Canada. (3)
An anti-capitalist or socialist approach sees the city or local community as the centre point of public life. The beginning of an economy built on solidarity, not profit, puts the services people need as the top priority. Access to safe, fresh drinking water, free from pollution, is clearly a service people need and should be a priority.
Instead of investing in the services people need, like clean water, the Harper Conservatives have cut $220 billion in taxes for corporations and high income earners, the 1%. (4)
So, where did the money for our water system go? Into the pockets of some bankers and oil tycoons.
Is that fair?
Once upon a time, our governments actually invested in infrastructure. In fact, that’s how most cities’ water, sewer and wastewater facilities were built – with investments from the federal and provincial governments. Since the 1960s however, the federal and provincial governments have been downloading costs onto municipalities. Today, the infrastructure deficit is estimated at $145 billion (5), and municipalities are responsible for 53% of that total, while receiving only 8 cents for every tax dollar in Canada (6). This is not sustainable and does not promote economic growth.
The federal Conservative government has taken underinvestment in infrastructure to new levels. Despite action by most major economies around the world to stimulate the global economy, the Conservatives have refused to make even basic stimulus investments in infrastructure and are putting the country’s economic future at risk. Investing in safe drinking water is not too much to ask from our federal government.
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are the reason your water rates are going up. Harper is making municipalities pay the full cost of new federal standards while cutting taxes for the elite. That’s not fair. We need federal dollars for public infrastructure. This will create good jobs, green the economy and provide the services people need, like safe drinking water.
The solution is simple really, four easy steps:
1. Stop the water rate hikes
2. Tax the millionaires and billionaires to pay for public infrastructure
3. Say no to P3 privatization
4. Enshrine access safe, clean water as a human right
2. See the Auditor General’s report on the problems with P3 schools in February 2010 (link opens .pdf): http://oag-ns.ca/Feb2010/full0210.pdf
Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.