FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 26, 2000
OPSEU calls for provincial
control of water quality
TORONTO – The province should take back control of water quality to prevent
further contamination tragedies like the one in Walkerton, the president of the
Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.
"The tragedy in Walkerton could have been prevented if the Harris
government had not downloaded responsibility for water quality control to the
municipalities," said Casselman. Environment Minister Dan Newman admitted
as much yesterday, saying that a safety warning would have been issued sooner if
the government had been in charge of water testing in Walkerton.
"Safe drinking water must be a provincial responsibility," said
Casselman. "Tragically, the Harris government has been anything but
responsible. They’ve cut the Ministry of Environment budget by 42 per cent,
laid off 900 staff, and told those who are left that they can’t perform
surprise inspections because it’s too expensive. This is the price you pay for
a tax break."
The frequency of water quality testing is based on how much each municipality
can afford. That includes testing for bacteria, once provided for free by the
Ministry of Health. Municipalities are not required to report any failed sample
tests to the government. With reduced staff, the Environment Ministry can only
perform inspections about once every four years, Casselman said.
"The fact that the government has now put the Ontario Clean Water Agency
in charge of the Walkerton water facilities is an admission that the safety of
our water must be a provincial responsibility," said Casselman.
"Control and accountability for the quality of water should remain with a
"Stupidly, this government is going in the other direction," she
said. "Every step they’ve taken with the Ontario Clean Water Agency has
been designed to divest it to municipalities and sell its work to private
companies. If we truly want safe drinking water from Windsor to Ottawa to Kenora,
the best way to go is with a publicly-run provincial body with full staffing to
ensure frequent inspections and a fast response whenever water quality is
OPSEU represents 580 employees at the Ontario Clean Water Agency and 1,100 at
the Ministry of Environment.
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For more information:
Bill Trbovich (416) 561-5613; (416) 793-0092