On March 11, Vancouver City Council votes in favour of the motion "Water and Washrooms as a Human Right" (with amendments), which includes setting Vancouver on a path to become a Blue Community.
The VDLC endorsed the Blue Communities initiative in 2019, and joined with the Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Public Service Alliance of Canada BC Region, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and others in calling on council to pass this motion.
The following are the remarks of VDLC President Stephen von Sychowski at the March 11 meeting.
My name is Stephen von Sychowski, I’m the President of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, representing roughly 60,000 unionized public and private sector workers in the Vancouver area.
We are proud to support the Blue Communities Initiative and thank councillors Boyle and Wiebe for bringing it forward, and all of our friends who are here today to support it.
There is nothing more important than clean water.
We need it for drinking, sanitation, and numerous other purposes some of which are so routine that we don’t even think about it.
Yet services and water resources are under growing pressure.
As we all know, climate change threatens access to clean drinking water for many of the worlds citizens and will impact us as well. This council has declared a climate emergency, we know the dangers of extreme weather and record levels of drought, intense rain, and flooding.
We need to act now to protect our water resources and ensure that access to water is a right and a reality for all, not a privilege for those with means as would be the case in a for-profit system.
The results of corporate, for-profit interests becoming involved in our water resources to date has been damaging both to access to clean drinking water as well as to the climate. For-profit companies harvest our water resources at a negligible cost, only to place it in environmentally damaging bottles and re-sell it to us at a large mark-up.
The long-term consequence of the proliferation of bottled water has been the elimination of much of the previously existing free drinking water access such as public fountains. That switch from free fountains to bottles means that in many locations access to clean drinking water now comes at a cost and is accessible only to those with the means. Moving back to public fountains and fill stations will improve access for all while supporting good public works jobs.
This question of “access for all”, of universality, is a critical one for us whenever we are talking about public services. That is especially so when we are talking about services which are connected to a human right, and a human need such as water and sanitation.
The Blue Communities water commons framework includes
- Recognizing water and sanitation as human rights.
- Banning or phasing out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.
- Promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.
These are meaningful steps to ensuring which you have the opportunity to take at this meaningful time, just before World Water Day.
We encourage you to join other municipalities around the world and pass this motion. Thank you.