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The British Columbia government has announced that any capital project costing more than $20 million must be considered as a P3 in order to qualify for provincial cash.

In announcing his new P3 policy at a meeting of municipal officials, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell targeted the long-overdue Victoria sewage treatment plant as the first public project to run the P3 gauntlet.

The move is “a direct blow to democracy,” said CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill. “This policy forces B.C. citizens, municipalities and other public institutions to accept P3s as the price of developing or upgrading public services and institutions.”

Campbell’s new policy didn’t sit well with delegates to the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual convention in October. On the same day Campbell dropped his P3 bombshell on the UBCM, delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing privatization of water services.

UBCM delegate and Cranbrook Mayor Ross Priest voiced his disapproval of Campbell’s “heavy-handed approach.” Cranbrook councilor Angus Davis agreed, adding that “municipalities are more than capable to handle their own affairs.”

The renewed P3 push – in a province that already has an active, government-funded pro-P3 agency – had O’Neill asking the question on many people’s minds: “if P3s are so great, why force them on us?”

The government’s move will steer a lot of new business to the province’s P3 agency, Partnerships BC. It’s prompted a review of Partnerships BC CEO Larry Blain’s $520,000 compensation package, which included $200,000 in bonuses for attracting business to the corporation.

Meanwhile, CUPE BC has been working hard to organize support for public water through the successful Island Water Watch coalition. At the beginning of November the group co-sponsored a successful water conference that drew 450 people.

Participants heard from academics, elected officials and activists who have defended public water, the integrity of watersheds and public participation in water governance. The conference also featured tours of a watershed and a creek restoration project.

Mexican water activist Claudia Campero Arena led one of the workshops. Arena shared stories of the harsh realities of water privatization in Mexico and around Latin America and spoke of her participation in the international organizing drive to push back against water privateers. She urged participants to get involved in their communities to protect public water and make it accessible to all.

Visit www.cupe.bc.ca to read more about the conference and Island Water Watch.

With files from the Victoria Times Colonist and the Cariboo Press