Water’s not a commodity

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By Brent Stafford, The Duel

It’s corporate bashing time — the BC NDP’s raising a great hue and cry over what they claim is a massive giveaway of the province’s water resource to a foreign-owned multinational corporation, Nestlé Waters Canada, a subsidiary of the global food products giant Nestlé.

Last week, the provincial government released a new rate structure detailing the fees water users will pay when B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act comes into force next year. B.C.’s water legislation has stood unchanged for over 100 years and the WSA is designed to bring the province’s water laws into the 21st century. The updated fee structure will for the first time require groundwater users like Nestlé, which operates a plant in Hope, to pay for the water it draws for use in its products. How much will the company pay? Not a lot – only $2.25 per million litres.

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert says this isn’t enough and corporations like Nestlé are cashing in, making massive profits on just “repacking” a resource we already own.

Chandra Herbert isn’t alone in his critique. An online petition hosted by sumofus.org, which opposes the new regulations, has received over 80,000 signatures. The irony is that while the NDP rail against foreign-owned corporations profiting off B.C.’s water resource, its partner in the fight is a foreign anti-corporate activist group based out of Washington D.C. Sumofus calls on “the government of British Columbia to stop allowing Nestlé and other corporate freeloaders from extracting Canada’s water for next to nothing.” That’s nice. But I prefer to have British Columbians set provincial resource policy.

The WSA is not a corporate giveaway. By design, the revenue generated by fees cover only the costs of regulation, delivery and maintenance. According to Environment Minister Mary Polak, during an extensive consultation process the public made it clear they did not want government to treat water as a commodity. She says, “British Columbia has never made a profit from water and we’re not about to start.” The new rates are fair to all users — individuals, farmers, small business and industry.

We can’t charge just foreign-owned corporations more to bottle B.C. water. It could trigger nasty clauses in our trade agreements. If we did, we would have to treat all bottled water companies the same. Meaning, Canadian-owned Polaris Water, Whistler Glacial Springs Water, ALLKISS Water and Capilano Springs — all bottled in B.C. — would pay more, too. I say we leave well enough alone.