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How WaterCan Began: The Creative Mind of Michael Lubbock
By Christina Lubbock, Former Executive Director of WaterCan

Christina Lubbock

Christina Lubbock

Having lived and worked in Peru for four years in the early1960s, Michael Lubbock saw at firsthand the desperate poverty and poor health in the rural areas of that country. On his return to Canada, he was determined to find answers to his questions about the state of international aid and development, not only in Latin America, but throughout the world, and in particular, Canada’s role in it.

While working as Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Latin America (CALA) – an organization he had founded in Toronto in1968 – Michael carried out his own research into the work of UN-based enterprises and Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in aid and development. His work for CALA provided opportunities for him to meet often with top executives and Ministers of External Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). These contacts not only helped Michael in his work to develop trading partnerships between Canada and Latin American countries, but also provided much valuable information for his “side-line” research into international development.

In 1976, Michael retired from CALA, and came to live in Ottawa with his new wife – me! But he didn’t retire from his study of international development. Many evening meetings were held in our home with a mix of business people, government officials, and heads of NGOs for deep discussions on the current state of Canada’s aid to the “Least Developed Countries” (LDCs). Many a night the candles burned down to the wick at the dining table, as active discussions took place on pinpointing just what the basic human needs were in the poorest nations of the developing world.

In the fall of 1985, while preparing a brief for the Special Joint Commission of Parliament on Canada’s International Relations, Michael found that little more than five per cent of Canada’s budget for international development was being dedicated to health, which includes the provision of clean water – even though this was mid-way through the United Nation’s Clean Water and Sanitation Decade (1981 to 1990). Believing that clean water is the foundation of health, and therefore of development, he knew that a special promotional effort was needed in the private sector.

Michael began by discussing his idea with known government executives and academic friends, and with representatives of some of the leading Canadian NGOs. He also spoke with knowledgeable people in the development field to devise ways of raising awareness - and money – within the private sector, for the ultimate provision of clean water in developing countries, to be made possible by his idea for a newly conceived NGO.

Borrowing from the experience of WaterAid, an English NGO established in 1983 in London, a plan was developed to invite Canadian municipalities to include in their monthly water bill mailings, a leaflet describing the desperate need for clean water and sanitation facilities (latrines) in developing countries. The leaflet would invite householders to send a donation to this new agency, which was given the name of “WaterCan”. An application for a charter was submitted to the government in the fall of 1986, proposing the name “WaterCan/EauCanada”. The charter to establish WaterCan was granted in March, 1987 - but the name was altered to “WaterCan/EauCan” – a disappointment to the originators. (The French-language name was subsequently changed in 1996 to “EauVive”). Toward the end of 1986, WaterCan’s financial resources had improved, with contributions from several NGOs, and much-needed seed money from CIDA.

Valuable support also came in letters of endorsement from the Federal Minister of External Relations, the President of CIDA, and the President of the Canadian Labour Congress. The first Board of WaterCan was established with Michael Lubbock serving as Chairman and Treasurer, and Mr. Robert Miller as Deputy Chairman and Secretary. Before the granting of the Charter, work continued on several fronts. More municipalities were approached, many administrative difficulties were solved, and the water bill insert project, known as the “Municipal Partnership Program”, was refined and launched. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities gave strong support to this initiative. In 1987, shortly after the granting of the Charter, a small office was established on the top floor of a house in Sandy Hill, Ottawa, owned by a well-known development agency. The first Executive Director, Ms. Nancy Pawelek, was appointed and a Staff of two hired to support her. WaterCan was on its way!

Michael Lubbock died in March, 1989, knowing fully that his creation had put down strong roots and would survive.


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Banner photo credit: Peter Bregg

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