WE REMEMBER IT AS "THE WALKERTON TRAGEDY". It was an E. coli outbreak in May 2000 that contaminated the water supply of the small community of Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and thousands got sick.
Privatization combined with human error was to blame.
An official government inquiry found the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission operators engaged in a host of improper operating practices.
The Ontario government of Mike Harris was also blamed for failing to regulate water quality and not enforcing the guidelines that had been in place. The water testing had been farmed out to private labs in October 1996
Under the old system, the government laboratories that did most of the water testing also had to report health concerns to a district manager in the ministry, as well as alert local medical officials. None of that happened in Walkerton in 2000. There was no alert about contaminated water until it was too late.
The government admitted that if they had still been in charge of testing, the boil-water warning would have been issued sooner.
But what would have, or should have happened, are cold comfort to the people of Walkerton, grieving over what did happen—and praying that such a tragedy will never occur again.
Whatever we are supposed
to gain from privatization,
what we have to risk to get it
is just not worth it.