Should Canada sell its water?

A dry summer has stirred up controversy over water access in B.C. Petitioners say the government must charge private companies more to use the resource - but opponents say that's a dangerous move, one that could end with the province losing control of its water.
A worker operates a forklift at the Nestle Waters Canada plant near Guelph, Ontario, in January, 2015. Some of the water Nestle bottles comes from B.C. (Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg)

If you buy a bottle of Nestlé water, you may be drinking groundwater from B.C. - water that Nestlé took out of that ground for free. Next year, new regulations will mean Nestlé pays $2.25 per million litres of water - or about as much as it takes to fill a 25-metre swimming pool.

But many British Columbians say that's not enough. For months, a petition has circulated calling for change, and it has picked up steam as B.C. communities deal with a dry summer. This week, however, a former MLA issued a warning to her fellow residents: signing the petition could lead to a loss of control over the resource. 

The minute that the government retains a dollar on what they're charge Nestlé, Nestlé could go to a NAFTA tribunal and say, 'They sold us this water, therefore we want the water commodity provisions from NAFTA to apply to it'. And then we can't turn off the taps.- Judi Tyabji

Another Canadian perspective is to treat the country's water as a commodity and price it accordingly. Nic Rivers is the Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa. He has written about water pricing strategies in Canada and says we'd all be better off if Canada raised the rates on water. 

We treat water as if it has no value and so I think that the system I'm proposing is bringing it closer in line to the way we treat other valuable natural resources. We would try to extract value from the people who are extracting our resources and that value would be maintained in the hands of Canadians, rather than in the hands of private companies.- Nic Rivers

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