Re: Want Better Water? Negotiate a P3
Public private partnerships have a history of being expensive and lacking proper, democratic public oversight. By tying infrastructure funding to privatization of public infrastructure, the federal Conservative government is putting pressure on municipalities - like Saint John - to enter risky public private partnership without a rigorous examination of the costs.
But the future of Saint John’s public water systems needs to be based on what is best for the city and its people – not what Ottawa thinks is best.
Let’s look at just some of the downsides. While the water treatment facility in Moncton is praised in your newspaper as an example of a P3 done right, your article doesn’t mention that water rates in Moncton skyrocketed by 75 per cent after the contract was awarded in 1998. Today the cost of drinking water in Moncton is significantly higher than most cities in Canada.
The City of Moncton is now wary of P3s and rightly so. Recently, city council decided to turn down a P3 proposal to upgrade water distribution services after an independent study showed that a pursuing a P3 was more expensive then the public option.
The people of Saint John continue to have serious concerns about aprivate, for-profit corporation delivering the city’s drinking water treatment services. Polling done by CUPE during the last municipal election shows that 62 per cent of Saint John voters oppose a P3.
Any decision by city council on the future of water treatment facilities needs to be made with independent research, thoughtful analysis and public consultation – not a reckless “unwavering commitment” to P3s promoted by this newspaper.
CUPE would encourage city councillors to ask tough questions and to fully examine the risks associated with P3s. I would suggest they utilize our new publication –“Asking the right questions: A guide for municipal officials considering P3s”– to get a complete picture of what a P3 will mean for Saint John.
National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
Want better water? Negotiate a P3
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Tue Oct 2 2012
Saint John’s mayor and council have won an assurance that federal funding for a new water treatment system will be provided, as long as the city can come up with a public-private partnership with provincial support.
Having persuaded federal officials that Saint Johners are serious, council needs to prove its own commitment. The city’s case for funding will not be helped if councillors start questioning the public-private partnership model, or actively fear-mongering against it, as their predecessors did.
Saint Johners have not forgotten the volume of union lobbying that was directed against candidates who approved of public-private partnerships in water during the 2008 municipal election. Nor have residents forgotten the consequences of electing a council that was dominated by anti-P3 ideologues; while other communities across Canada upgraded their water systems with federal assistance, Saint John’s last mayor and council denied the magnitude of the water problem and failed to comply with federal requirements that the city negotiate a P3 if it wanted to access federal funds. As a result, council made no progress on this critically important file for four years.
Reading recent comments made by Coun. Donnie Snook, it is clear that some councillors still do not understand what a P3 is, or appreciate that this city could hire a firm to construct and manage a new water plant while maintaining full ownership of the water supply and full control over water quality. That’s what Moncton did, and the improvement in water quality has been both dramatic and consistently reliable. If councillors look beyond the protectionist rhetoric they will be subjected to by CUPE and investigate the facts, they will see that public-private partnerships can work.
Mayor Mel Norton deserves kudos for this efforts to win over the chairman of PPP Canada, John McBride. Mr. McBride had every reason to be dubious about the city’s commitment, observing that “the kind of progress P3 Canada would like to normally see, hasn’t been made on this project.” Premier David Alward also seems to be convinced that an agreement to split the costs can be reached.
Those commitments in principle could be lost quickly, unless councillors and staff make an unwavering commitment to secure a three-way P3 funding agreement by the federal deadline in June.