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There’s growing pressure on Edmonton city council from community groups, including CUPE, to keep a new recreation centre public.

In mid-2006, city council issued a request for proposals for P3 operation of the arena part of a new recreation center/arena complex. A corporation has overstepped this partial privatization plan, making an unsolicited pitch to operate the whole complex as a P3.

  • Update: On Dec. 18, council voted to pursue a P3 with an as-yet unnamed corporation. But many questions remain unanswered.

Any P3 is a big mistake, as CUPE Alberta President D’Arcy Lanovaz warned  Edmonton city council in late November. Lanovaz pointed to the growing list of P3 arenas that have struck out across Canada, and made a strong case for a public financing and operation.

The most recent recreation failures come from Ottawa, where city councilor Alex Cullen says Ottawa has learned an “expensive lesson” from its experiment  with recreation P3s. Two recreation centers have failed this year in Ottawa. One of the two is receiving millions of dollars in public bailouts, and the other has just been taken over by the city, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.

Cullen took part by phone in an Edmonton news conference organized by Public Interest Alberta, a community group also fighting the P3. PIA has put together a backgrounder on the recreation centre, and is coordinating a campaign telling city council to keep the complex public. The organization also wrote a column about the P3 for the Edmonton Journal.

The executive director of the province’s left-wing think tank has also weighed in, saying a P3 is “nonsensical”.  The Parkland Institute’s Ricardo Acuña flagged many concerns in a recent op/ed, including Alberta laws he says leave citizens with “no way of verifying or ensuring what a company has committed to in a P3 contract or even how much the contract is costing. There can be no public accountability or transparency in this kind of arrangement.”

The arguments are having an impact. In early December the Edmonton Journal published an editorial questioning the costs and loss of control that would come with a P3 deal. The editorial concludes “[a] P3 for this project may be politically convenient for a council reluctant to ask taxpayers to pay more taxes. But there’s not much sign it serves the public any better.”

On December 18, city officials will present council with three options: develop the entire complex as a P3; build the recreation center part of the complex publicly and the arena as a P3; or reject the P3 option altogether and build the entire complex using public financing. Visit CUPE Alberta and Public Interest Alberta for the latest updates.