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Halifax city council has backed out of a major wastewater P3 with French water multinational Suez.

The cancellation of what looked like a “done deal” is a great victory for public water – and a significant setback for Suez.

The city tore up the Halifax Harbour cleanup contract after Suez refused to take responsibility for meeting environmental standards – a move that would have left taxpayers on the hook for any fines.

Clearly Suez, operating through its North American subsidiary United Water, wanted all the profits and none of the risk when it came to operating the city’s new sewage treatment plants.

Halifax’s mayor has publicly stated that canceling the deal will save millions of dollars, exposing the lie that P3s save money.

The P3 process has also created more delays for the already long-overdue project, instead of the faster delivery times the privateers always promise. Scrapping the P3 also allows the city to look at more advanced forms of sewage treatment, which is environmental good news.

A consortium led by Suez had won the long-term P3 contract for the city’s harbour cleanup last fall. The deal was signed in the face of significant community opposition from a local Water Watch coalition, as well as hesitation from some city councillors.

But this latest development shows it’s never too late to reverse a P3 – even after it appears to be final. While the contract had been awarded, ongoing negotiations kept the door open for cancellation.

Through their work treating and delivering drinking and wastewater, Halifax CUPE members have shown that publicly-run water systems work best. The push is now on to ensure city council moves forward with a project that’s publicly owned and operated – for the good of the city, the harbour and the environment.