EDITORIAL: Debating public/private water systems

Many things work well when handled by the private sector, but we're not so sure a water system should be one of those

They are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt members of the French Creek Residents’ Association are not happy with their water service provider and they are doing something rather serious about it.

A rate increase of more than 33 per cent last year has partly fuelled the movement. The Epcor water customers in French Creek pay about $162 every three months for their water. They can walk a few minutes to visit their neighbours who are on the Qualicum Beach system, who pay about half that every three months.

Epcor, owned by the City of Edmonton, builds guaranteed profit into its water rates. Now, regular readers of this space know we don’t believe profit is a dirty word. The bigger question here is whether water systems should be privately owned.

One could make an argument for just about anything being privatized. Education, health care, bridges, roads, you name it. Many people won’t agree with the arguments for full privatization of these key pillars of society, but reasonable arguments can be made nonetheless.

We’re not sure that’s the case for water.

Sure, there are government standards to follow and a government comptroller for appeals on water rates (that didn’t work out so well for French Creek residents), but that somehow doesn’t instill confidence when it comes to water.

Think about how much you use water, how much you take it for granted. We wash, we drink, we flush many times a day. In fact, we (Canadians) are some of the heaviest users of water in the world, consuming roughly 250 litres per person a day drinking, washing, flushing, etc. Germans use about 120 litres a day. Many in Africa must get by on 20 litres a day. The United Nations says a human being needs 50 litres a day.

Companies, by their very nature, can put profit ahead of almost anything else. That’s not a bad thing, generally. It creates jobs and wealth and more jobs and more taxes to pay for things like public health care and education.

For safety, conservation and accountability reasons, we don’t believe water belongs in that private-company-profit sphere, but it’s up to the people of French Creek to make their own determination.

— Editorial by John Harding