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VICTORIA—Elected councillors have voted to leave the door open for fully public sewage treatment and resource recovery in the Capital Regional District (CRD).

On March 24 the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (CALWMC) voted on a business case to present to the B.C. government for a one-third share of capital funding for the sewage treatment project.

Committee members had received a recommendation for a so-called hybrid option, which would be mostly public, but would include a public private partnership (P3) for the West Shore communities of Colwood and Langford, along with some portion of resource recovery. During debate – the committee decided to expand options for West Shore communities and resource recovery to include the possibility of traditional public procurement or a P3.

CUPE ‘Keep it Public’ campaign coordinator Kim Manton said that the significant public outcry against privatization has clearly registered with elected officials. “It is heartening to see that citizens of the West Shore now have the ability to plan for public operation and that resource recovery can also be public. They certainly deserve to be able to get the best value – which is public operation.” Manton said that West Shore residents will need to make their voices heard in the next few months.

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill said that he is very pleased to see a full public option back on the table despite the BC government’s desire for privatization. “The commitment of the CRD to real public engagement on the issue of procurement is commendable and the public spoke loud and clear. This has not been an easy process and it is by no means over. But citizens of the region now have the ability to push forward for full public operation. That is a major victory in itself.”

A number of presenters came before the committee to urge against P3s. Terry Huntington from the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition presented a petition with over 4,000 names in support of public sewage treatment. Forensic accountant Ron Parks crunched the numbers and clearly laid out the significant cost savings of hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayers with public procurement. CUPE research representative Keith Reynolds walked the committee through a list of reasons to avoid P3s, quoting from a recent Terasen Gas submission to the BC Utilities Commission – seeking to contract back in its customer service functions.

The full CRD board will vote on the committee recommendation on March 31. Following this the provincial and federal governments will need to finally commit to covering their one-third portions of the capital costs.