Monday, February 22, 2010

Who’s Paying for the Stuff that Comes Out of Your Tap?

We drink it to sustain our bodies, bathe in it to stay clean and healthy, it is even part of the very molecular structure of what we breathe to live.

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All life as we know it requires water. Life is so dependent on the liquid compound known as H2O that scientists use its existence on other planets as a determining factor in whether there is a possibility of life on worlds outside our own. That’s why they think their once may have been life on Mars, because of trace elements which indicate water once was on the red planet.

All civilizations throughout history have been built on or near water. Battles have ensued, and great wars have been fought over water.

A battle is heating up in Canada’s largest province over who should pay for the life sustaining substance.

Ontario Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) David Caplan has proposed a private members bill which would require all residents of that province to pay the full price for safe, clean, water flowing into their homes.

Caplan’s no slouch, he’s a veteran politician. He’s been a health minister and an infrastructure minister – on separate occasions – and now is known among his colleagues as a backbencher because he’s no longer a minister of anything.

And his private members bill isn’t anything to take one flush at and look away either. Not only would Ontarians on average have to fork over about $50 per month for the right to continue to access their safe and clean municipal water supply, the bill would put into law the public ownership of water.

Maybe Caplan is planning ahead to the next election -- today he announced yet another private member's bill to make Toronto's public transit system legally an essential service. This debate has gone on for years, because every time the over-powerful and greedy union calls for a transit strike, the City of Toronto essentially shuts down due to the massive traffic jams.

Who does own the stuff that flows through your taps? If Caplan’s bill passes – it is already at Second Reading – legally you would.

But wait a sec . . . if you own something, why would you need to pay for it – you already own it?

Caplan’s water bill stems from the Walkerton tragedy a decade ago. Back in 2000, seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada due to a tainted water supply. The money collected by this new tax on water would go towards ensuring municipal water sources and the systems in place to get those water sources to us our safe and well managed.

In some Canadian municipalities, the water supply systems are well over 100-years-old.

Despite the additional cost to Ontario residents, this water bill really boils down to two issues – the ownership of a natural resource, and whether or not the money collected for the right to access that resource will really go towards maintaining it.

Far more than being cynical, we’ve seen governments create new taxes and user fees for specific projects, only to learn that those monies have gone to other things.

When the Liberals were last in power federally in Canada, millions of dollars were collected to keep track of legal gun owners, and to remove unregistered fire arms.
However, all the money collected was spent long before the Gun Registry was completed, leaving a political mine field for the Liberals, and a mishandled and mismanaged partial list of registered gun owners.

That additional gas tax you pay when you fill up your car is supposed to fund road and highway repairs, public transit systems and other infrastructure costs.

Yet most of these funds have gone into other government programs, leaving our roads and highways full of potholes, and our constantly underfunded public transit systems crushing their very users, by constantly increasing their fares.

Clearly, we just can’t take a politicians word when they tell us specific user fees or taxes collected will go to the specific costs they claim they will.

So should we let the slow meandering wheels of governments declare our water systems publicly owned?

The alternative, unfortunately isn’t all that better – having a privately owned water system, run by the filthy hands of greedy big business.

Although the funds collected by big business would most likely go into maintaining the water supply system, the primary goal of big business is making money. So the costs would constantly increase, as the powers-that-be wanted more and more profits – even if the cost to maintain the system didn’t rise.

We’ve seen this happen with the once provincially owned 407 Express Toll Highway in Ontario, which has seen constant toll increases ever since it was sold off to a private company which now handles all maintenance.

Whatever happens, we’re stuck in the middle of two evils – a mismanaged public system, or an overpriced private system – because water is the one thing none of us can go without.

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