Dwindling access to drinking water on Canadian university campuses: Report

September 2, 2008

Water fountains are becoming an endangered species on university campuses across Canada. That’s one of the findings of a national on-line survey, Corporate Initiatives on Campus: A 2008 Snapshot, designed to document the commercial and corporate presence on Canadian campuses.

Responses to the survey, which was developed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Polaris Institute, paint a picture of rapidly decaying water fountains and a lack of access in educational institutions across the country to clean, potable tap water.

Thirty three percent of respondents noted a reduction in the number of drinking water fountains on campus. Forty three percent of respondents cited delays in repairing existing water fountains. Others said that new buildings are being built without water fountains, that existing water fountains and cold water taps in washrooms are being removed, and that vending machines are blocking access to water fountains. One response from Brock University in St. Catharines explained “there are no water fountains” in new buildings on campus, “only Pepsi machines.”

“Why are University and College administrations limiting student access to potable tap water in new buildings on campus?” asked Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris Institute. “It seems clear that Canadian universities and colleges are bowing to pressure from Coke and PepsiCo to eliminate competition to their bottled water brands.”

According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), bottled water is the tip of a much larger privatization iceberg. “More and more North American cities are getting back to the tap by eliminating bottled water in their buildings. Public (or municipal) water is the safe, affordable and environmentally-sound choice for all public buildings in the country,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.

The survey covers: the general commercial or corporate presence on campus; contracting-out; exclusive beverage marketing; access to drinking fountains/tap water, and campus action in response to these trends.

Among its findings: 79% of respondents indicated there are fast-food suppliers on campus; 79% cite corporate sponsorship of activities like Welcome Week or Spirit Week; 54% of respondents said their campus had an exclusive arrangement with Coke and 40% an exclusive arrangement with Pepsi.

“Commercialism on campus is a trend we know is on the increase,” explained Erika Shaker of the CCPA. “The responses to this survey provide a preliminary look at the effects of this trend on campus life, from sponsored activities and research to the most basic: access to tap water.”


To access a summary of the survey results please visit: http://www.policyalternatives.ca

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an independent research organization focusing on economic and social policy issues.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has 570,000 members across Canada, and represents workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines.

The Polaris Institute works with citizen movements to develop new tools and strategies for action on public policy issues like water.

For more information, please contact CCPA Communications Officer Kerri-Anne Finn at (613) 563-1341 x306.

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