Karin Jordan CUPE Communications

There’s growing evidence that the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) is using a small community in Ontario to launch a bigger push to privatize public water and wastewater systems.

Last July, the bank announced it would use public money to lower the cost of a water and wastewater public-private partnership (P3) in the Township of Mapleton, ON. The bank plans to use Mapleton as a model to spread water privatization to other municipalities and First Nation communities.

The CIB is subsidizing the private sector borrowing costs of a 20 year P3 to design, build, finance, operate and maintain new and existing water and wastewater systems in the township.

There’s nothing new or innovative about P3s, which have been around for decades, and have drawn widespread criticism from auditors general and other experts. P3s are expensive, rob communities of control of vital services, and are shrouded in secrecy. Despite major pressure, P3s have never taken hold in the water sector, which is why the CIB is zeroing in on municipal systems.

Peddling water privatization

Bank documents released through Access to Information reveal what’s at stake. The documents, from a subcommittee of the CIB’s corporate-heavy board of directors, include an April 2019 presentation on the water and wastewater sector that analyzes the opportunities and issues for corporations trying to profit from this sector. Large sections are kept secret, including an entirely blacked out “market outreach strategy.”

Most Canadian municipalities haven’t privatized their water and wastewater systems. Instead, they directly own and operate these systems, with CUPE members providing the services in many communities.

The CIB presentation shows that the bank plans to capitalize on inadequate public funding and underinvestment in municipal water systems. Instead of providing the most straightforward and cost-effective solutions, public funding or low-cost public loans, the presentation calls for “new investment models” to “incentivize investment in water and wastewater assets.”

Mapleton a testing ground

As PressProgress has reported, bank officials believe the Mapleton scheme has “potential as a pilot project and demonstration to other communities with water and wastewater challenges across the country.” P3s are usually only pitched for projects costing over $100 million because of the extremely high costs of consultants and lawyers negotiating the deals. The CIB is aiming to remove this barrier.

The CIB documents also flag a lack of centralized information about upcoming water projects as a barrier to privatization. This puts the CIB’s data-gathering activities in a new light.

The vast majority of Canadians don’t want their water systems run by corporations for profit. The CIB presentation highlights “public resistance to private ownership” as a barrier to the private sector getting control of, and profiting from, Canada’s water and wastewater systems.

Federal privatization push swims against pro-public tide

While the federal Liberals push water and wastewater privatization through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, local governments are ending privatization and bringing water systems back in house.

The Transnational Institute is tracking this growing trend, which has many names: reverse privatization, bringing services back in house, and “remunicipalization.” Over the last two decades, at least 311 municipal or regional governments in 36 countries have taken water back into public hands. This includes eight Canadian communities that have ended water privatization: White Rock, Port Hardy and Sooke BC; Taber, Okotoks and Banff, AB; and Owen Sound and Hamilton, ON.

In countries with widespread water privatization, there are even more examples. In France, 109 municipalities have brought water systems and services back in house. Over 70 cities and towns in the United States, 38 Spanish municipalities and 17 German municipalities have also reversed privatization.

Learn more and get involved at cupe.ca/not-for-sale