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Concerned CUPE members have joined the Eau Secours Coalition to fight the privatization of water services in two municipalities on the island of Montreal.

On Aug. 2, the future cities of Westmount and Côte St-Luc invited bids to privatize the management of water in their territories.

The contracts are supposed to be awarded Oct. 4, before municipal elections and before the two municipalities come back into existence as a result of the de-amalgamation process sweeping Montreal. The winning firm will also have the task of evaluating the state of the water system and of proposing an action plan. The Eau Secours Coalition, a watchdog group, is holding public awareness meetings throughout September in each of the two municipalities.

CUPE 301, representing Montreal outside workers, has also expressed concern. “Why go to the private sector when Montreal has always had the resources and expertise to provide a quality public service?” union representative Michel Fontaine said. “If the winning contractor fails to make the expected profits, what’s to say they won’t start installing water meters to make citizens pay? And why should residents of the two municipalities pay to have their water delivery and sewage systems assessed when the City of Montreal has already done an evaluation?”

Prior to amalgamation in January 2002, the water supply system in the two boroughs belonged to and was maintained by the City of Montreal. Under the new structure, water production and purification costs will be paid by the Conseil d’agglomération de Montréal, an organization that will start managing certain services for de-merged municipalities as of Jan. 1, 2006. The de-merged communities will have to take care of their local water systems themselves, including delivery and infrastructure maintenance.

At first, we were talking about a two-year contract [for the bids, 2006-2007],” Fontaine said. “But Bill 62 allows municipalities to offer contracts of up to 25 years to operate water supply and sewage systems. Will there be an automatic or fast-track renewal clause? If so, residents of Westmount and Côte St-Luc will be trapped for a long time. Given how expensive it is to repair water supply systems, you have to wonder why any company would agree to a short-term contract.”