Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is the Political Director for the Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project. He blogs regularly for this website on the right to water and sanitation and international water issues. His international work has included organizing for climate justice at the United Nations conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun, lobbying for trade justice at the European Parliament in Strasburg and Brussels, and participating in the historic Peoples’ Conference on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba. Brent has a Master of Arts degree in Political Science from York University in Toronto. His political activism began almost 25 years ago rebuilding damaged schools in revolutionary Nicaragua.

 

July 9, 2018 – 4:11pmMeera Karunananthan of the Blue Planet Project took part in this March 2014 rally in San Salvador in support of the General Water Law now being undermined by ARENA.
Popular mobilizations are taking place in El Salvador as ARENA cr…

Jun 062017
 

June 6, 2017 – 10:17am
Northampton, Massachusetts is now a blue community!
The Daily Hampshire Gazette reports, “The city became the first so-called blue community in the U.S. when City Council passed a resolution to that effect on [June 1].”
The ar…

 

April 7, 2017 – 7:31am


Retired teacher Roy Brady helps those attending the OTPP annual general meeting understand what it means to lose access to water.

Council of Canadians Peterborough-Kawarthas chapter activist Roy Brady called on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) at their annual general meeting in Toronto yesterday afternoon to commit to a strategy to divest from private, for-profit water and sanitation services in Chile.

The OTPP administers the pensions for 178,000 public school teachers, principals and school administrators, and pays pensions to 117,000 retirees.

In 2007, the OTPP began investing through its Chilean Unit, Inversiones OTPPB Chile II Limitada, in Chilean water and sanitation services. In 2011, it increased its shares and is now the majority shareholder in three major Chilean utilities making it the largest investor in Chilean private water and sanitation services.

The intervention at yesterday’s annual general meeting was co-organized by The Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project.

Brady, a retired teacher, says, “Ontario teachers have a long history of protecting public services in Canada. That should extend to water services in Chile too. Does the OTPP expect different standards for Chileans?”

Meera Karunananthan, the director of the Blue Planet Project, adds, “There is growing evidence that private water and sanitation services fail communities. Around the world, we have seen for-profit water corporations raise tariffs, cut off poor households and cut corners when it comes to environmental and public health measures. The situation in Chile is no different.”

Currently, two of the OTPP-owned companies – ESSBIO and ESVAL – are under investigation for mass shut-offs that left hundreds of thousands without water. ESVAL is also under investigation for providing water that did not meet safety standards to more than 30 million people. Local farmers are also challenging ESVAL arguing the company is accessing more than its share of water during periods of drought. And the third OTPP-owned company – Aguas de Valle – is facing a class action lawsuit for a series of illegal actions infringing on the human rights to water and sanitation including unscheduled cut offs, billing irregularities, poor water quality and failure to comply with compensatory measures.

Teachers in Ontario are encouraged to send an email to Ron Mock, the President & CEO of the OTPP, to call on him “to engage Chilean utilities in a transition to public management and ownership of water and sanitation services.” To do so, please go to this online action alert.

To read more about the situation, click here.

The Council of Canadians first began opposing the OTPP’s investments in Chilean for-profit water utilities in 2010.
 

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May 012016
 

May 1, 2016 – 8:58am

Water disconnections in Detroit are set to resume today.

The Detroit News reports, “Hundreds lined up outside the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s East Side Customer Service Center Saturday in a last-minute effort to avoid having their water service shut off. The water department is scheduled to start shutting off service Sunday to customers who owe money, and Saturday’s ‘Stay Connected to DWSD Water Fair’ offered an opportunity to avoid disconnections by entering into a payment plan with the utility, spokeswoman Linda Clark said. …Clark said about 23,000 people owe money to the department. The average amount owed: $663.”

The Associated Press adds, “The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has said it will start shutting off service Sunday on delinquent residential accounts not on plans.” Last month, the Detroit News reported, “The program of residential shut-offs was suspended in the winter and will continue when weather warms. Since the campaign began in 2014, the city has conducted about 50,000 shut-offs.”

That article also notes, “Detroit last year shut water service to 23,300 homes … but left the taps running at thousands of businesses that owe millions of dollars, city documents show. Businesses and government-owned properties owe nearly twice as much as residences, $41 million compared with $26 million for homes, but only 680 were shut off in 2015, according to records obtained by The Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act.” Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization says, “[Businesses] don’t get threats. They don’t get shut-off notices. They get to dispute their bills. When we try to dispute a bill, we still get shut off.”

On June 18, 2014, the Blue Planet Project, the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, who at that time was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, urging her to take immediate action to help restore water services and stop further cut-offs in Detroit. She responded, “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “Detroit is a victim of decades of market driven neo-liberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good. With globalization and the hollowing out of the once mighty auto industry, wealth and businesses fled to the suburbs, draining ‎the city of its tax base and the water department of its revenues. The burden of paying for the water and sewer services landed squarely on those who stayed, mostly poor African Americans. Rates rose 119 per cent in a decade in a city with record high unemployment and a 40 per cent poverty rate.”

In addition to the Blue Planet Project report to the UN, the Council of Canadians also organized a solidarity convoy and delivered water to Detroit residents in July 2014. In September 2014, we asked Judge Steven Rhodes to issue a restraining order against the water shutoffs. In June 2015, we attended the International Social Movements Gathering on Water Rights and Housing Rights in Detroit organized by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition. And in October 2015, Council of Canadians activists from across the country, along with Vanessa Gray from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and independent media, met with American allies in Detroit for a tour and strategy discussion.

We continue to urge the City of Detroit to implement the water affordability program proposed by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. That program calls for the adoption of 1) a rate affordability program, consisting of a rate discount component, an [arrears] management component and a water conservation component; 2) designated fundamental consumer protections involving late fees, service disconnections, and payment plans; and 3) designated collection initiatives directed toward customers having an ability-to-pay.

For numerous blogs on this situation, and more about our interventions in support of the right to water and sanitation in Detroit, please click here.
 

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April 26, 2016 – 5:19pm

A protest against pre-paid water meters in Witzenberg.

Please see this update from our Blue Planet Project team in Cape Town:

After winning a partial victory last fall our partners in South Africa are once again mobilizing to contest the commodification of water.

In the municipality of Witzenberg, about two hours outside of Cape Town in the agricultural heartland of the Western Cape province, local Housing Assembly activists from the Witzenberg Activist Group are fiercely contesting the installation of Water Management Devices (WMDs), a key component of the municipalities cost recovery agenda.

As detailed in a previous post, since 2014 the Blue Planet Project has been working with partner organizations in and around Cape Town to contest the commodification of water and realize the constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water. This includes fighting the installation of WMDs, which restrict the amount and flow of water to ‘indigent’ households eligible for Free Basic Water.

In the second half of 2015, activists from Witzenberg joined workshops hosted by the Project, facilitated by Cape Town-based activists from the Housing Assembly, an organization struggling for access to decent housing and public services in Cape Town and the Western Cape. These workshops focused on mapping the water needs of communities, collecting experiences of living with and organizing around inadequate service policy and delivery. These workshops have contributed to ongoing community organizing in the municipality and to the organization’s critique of municipal policy on water provision and services more generally.

Following these workshops and an intensive process of community organizing, several hundred citizens marched on the Witzenberg Municipal offices in the town of Ceres in August to protest poor housing and service delivery and an unaccountable municipality. A memorandum was presented to the council detailing the community’s demands, which included cancelling plans for the installation of WMDs. While the municipality was slow to respond, the community mobilization succeeded in having the mayor thrown out of office. After a number of unsatisfactory interactions with the council and interim mayor, activists were frustrated with the status quo: more meaningless consultation and deteriorating service delivery.

In September another march to the municipal offices took place. This time the community had the added clout of a strategic alliance with striking fruit workers and their union. With this added pressure the Witzenberg municipality agreed to suspend the installation of (WMDs) pending further consultation with communities, national agencies and ‘experts’ as well as to review the community’s other demands around housing, services and social grants.

While this represented an important victory in the struggle against the commodification of water, the municipality has continued to drag its heels in the consultation process especially as it pertains to including the voices of those who suffer from the inadequate provision of water in Witzenberg. Just last week the municipality informed the Housing Assembly that it would be going ahead with the installation of WMDs, though no date for the start of installations was specified.

As a part of ongoing work in the region, activists continue to come together in workshop spaces hosted by the BPP. The next round of workshops begins later this month with the aim sharpening tools  need to effectively engage and contest the state around water policy and service delivery. Activism has stopped the Witzenberg installation of water management devices in the past and can continue to do so into a future built on a liberation that puts people before profit.

For more on this issue please see the ‘Beacon Valley against Pre-paid water meters’ Facebook page here.

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