Summary of Event (co-written by Eleni Koukidis & Michelle Johnston, CIC Volunteer Event Organizer):
On May 24th, 2011, the CIC – Toronto Branch held an event entitled ‘Water: Public Right or Private Commodity?’ where Kerry Freek, Editor of Water Canada Magazine, moderated a panel of three leading public officials and intellectuals in the Music Room of prestigious Hart House on campus at the University of Toronto.
The panel consisted of Dr. Stephen Renzetti, Professor of Economics at Brock University, Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Project Organizer and John Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs at Nestlé Waters Canada.
The speakers were allotted 5-8 minutes each to give an introductory statement regarding their particular stance on the status of water as a commodity and/or a human right. During these introductions it became apparent that the panel represented a wide range of opinions. Dr. Renzetti focussed on the need for an innovative system that is corporately conscious, while still ensuring that all are given access to water. Mr. Naidoo expressed an opinion in opposition to the privatization of water, arguing that it leads to conflict, human rights violations and an unsustainable future. Mr. Challinor defended his position on the privatization of water by stating that while the public has a right to the access of water, the privatization and sale of water, in moderation, does not cause harm to the public or the environment. He further explained that both systems have challenges; one being the need for investment in public infrastructure, which he claimed could be funded by the profits made from the sale of water.
After the introductory speeches, Ms. Freek presented a series of prepared questions relating to both international and local aspects of the privatization and export of water. Following these questions, the floor was opened to questions from the audience which were expertly chosen and read by moderator Kerry Freek. Some of the recurrent themes throughout the Q and A period included water as threatened resource and as “the next oil,” if continued to be treated as a commodity. After friendly and informative but none the less competitive discourse and debate, the event came to a conclusion. The discussion continued over refreshments at the rear of the room, and speakers were approached with several more questions.