Letters to the Editor

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RE: What Is UMSU Smoking? (Oct. 13, 2010)

I would like to applaud Spencer Fernando for his article in last week’s edition of the Manitoban.

The freedom to choose is one of the most important and fundamental rights in Canadian society. It is unfortunate that UMSU feels that students at the University of Manitoba are incapable of making personal choices on what products to consume or not consume on campus. What is even more unfortunate is that besides UMSU’s paternalistic stance on bottled water, they have decided that the risk of second hand smoke, rising health care costs from personal cigarette use and litter from cigarettes is not a risk that warrants their paternity. If you think cigarette consumption affects the lives of Canadians less then the negative externalities produced by water bottle consumption, you are sadly misinformed. The least UMSU could do is be straight with us. Do you want us to be free to choose or is it only for some choices? Or, is freedom of choice only limited to what ever is not on UMSU’s agenda at any particular point in time?

It is essential that we draw a parallel between these two goods in order to show how ridiculous and hypocritical UMSU’s stance really is. If products that are proven to cause so many direct social ills (like cigarettes) are acceptable for purchase on campus, how is it justifiable to ban water bottles?

If UMSU is going to spend our student tax dollar to impose views on us, at least spend them to inform students of what UMSU feels makes students’ lives better, instead of taking away our right to choose. I propose that UMSU advocates for the placement of labels on water bottles in order to show the harmful effects of its consumption, just like cigarette labels show the harmful effects that cigarettes have on the individual. Students can therefore be informed and preserve their freedom to choose at the same time.

Kyle Mirecki
Fourth year political studies honours

It is not surprising that at first glance, the phase out of bottled water on campus may be perceived as a limitation on a consumer’s right to choose. Mr. Fernando’s article from Oct. 11 attests to this point stating that, “If we are free to buy cigarettes on campus, we should be free to buy bottled water as well.” Let’s be clear, water — unlike tobacco — is a human right, something that belongs to the commons, for which all living things need for survival.

Water is not something that should be turned into a commodity that can be sold on the market.

UMSU recognizes that we are living through one of the most alarming and critical issues of our times: the global water crisis. We have all seen the trend lines of this profound environmental catastrophe — the drying up of aquifers, rivers and lakes at an alarming rate due to overexploitation, pollution and contamination of fresh water systems and watersheds and the resulting threat to or disappearance of access to clean water for billions of humans on the planet. The bottled water industry is part of this problem.

Bottled water companies will stop at nothing to protect their access to water. For example, there is a disturbing trend on Canadian campuses where water fountains are being decommissioned in older buildings and excluded in new buildings. In these cases students, staff and faculty are left to either bring water from home, drink from bathroom sinks or purchase bottled water. The elimination or exclusion of water fountains is culminated in a picture of privatized water delivery on campus. The rise of the bottled water industry, alongside the popularity of signing beverage exclusivity contracts with the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co., create a perfect environment for the disappearance of water fountains.

A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Union of Public Employees and Polaris Institute survey released in 2008, found that 33 per cent of respondents noticed a reduction in the number of water fountains on campus and 43 per cent cited delays in repairing them when beverage exclusivity contracts were implemented on Canadian campuses. What choice do people on campus have? To buy a bottle of Dasani or Aquafina from Coca-Cola or Pepsi vending machines when there are not enough water fountains or they are not being maintained?

A system is emerging where we will have two water systems: one for the world’s wealthy and one for everyone else. Decisions about who gets water and at what price should not be made by powerful transnational corporations who are motivated by profit.

In Canada, 81 municipalities, eight school boards, nine post-secondary institutions and countless businesses have restricted bottled water and promoted public water infrastructure. The only question now is whether University of Manitoba will be next?

Elly Adeland
Campaigns coordinator, Polaris Institute

RE: U of M without a drop to drink (Oct. 13, 2010)

It is good to hear that Degrees will be re-opening soon. Here is to hoping the void left on campus by the closing of Wise Guys will soon be filled as well.

It is more than libations; it is about good food and a place to study. Degrees provided the best food on campus, for reasonable prices, and it was ethically sourced — it can’t re-open soon enough! Believe it or not, Wise Guys was great place to study during lunch hour. Lunch line-ups eat away valuable studying time. Equipped with your annual membership card, you could waltz into Wise Guys and enjoy full table service. You could crack open a book — plus a beer if you so chose — and get some studying done while you waited for your food to arrive. Both locations also provided welcome relief from the MSG and corn syrup in the vending machines when one was studying late on campus.

Hopefully the loss of this campus institution will help to spur students from stupor. We can have better food!

If anyone has had occasion to eat on the University of Winnipeg campus they will know that Diversity Food Services does a much better job of providing healthy, sustainable and reasonably costing food. In my humble opinion, better food service at the University of Manitoba starts with replacing Aramark, or at minimum threatening to do so for negotiating leverage to demand better food services. In a couple of years, the contract that grants Aramark monopoly rights on providing food service on most of the campus will once again be up for review. Aramark and other companies such as Diversity Food Services are no doubt interested in capturing the university food market. It is up to us students to lobby the university administration, UMSU, Aramark and other interested companies to provide us with better service. The time lobbying is now, years before the contract is reviewed. Future generations of students will thank us.

James Beddome