In a major win for public ownership of local water resources, the Township of Mapleton, Ontario, has decided to terminate the public-private partnership (P3) to deliver its new water and wastewater facility, a plan that had been supported with a $20 million commitment from the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). This reversal raises questions about the flawed mandate of the CIB that puts private profit above the public interest.

The failure of the CIB to conclude this relatively small deal also raises serious questions about its role in infrastructure development, questions that CUPE has been raising since the CIB’s creation in 2017.

After years of failing to secure federal or provincial funding for various water system upgrades, such as a water tower, the township launched a Request For Proposal process in late 2018 to attract private sector corporations to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a new water and wastewater facility in the municipality. After receiving a number of initial submissions from private companies, Mapleton engaged PwC to prepare a Value for Money (VfM) report comparing the P3 with the public option for the new facility. The report concluded that a partnership with the CIB, which had pledged up to $20 million to subsidize the private sector’s higher borrowing costs, was the best option.

The township council was prepared to select one of the private sector proposals at its meeting in March 2020, but this meeting was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, increased community awareness of the plan resulted in media scrutiny and questions from residents. The township had conducted its deliberations of the plan in private meetings with its lawyers, there had been no public consultation, and even parts of the VfM report had been blocked from public view.

Meanwhile, the CIB had been publicly promoting the Mapleton deal as a “pilot project” for the private sector take over of small municipal water systems nationwide, a framing that raised red flags for community members, public sector workers and water rights advocates.

After months of delaying the decision, the Mapleton township council decided in late July to terminate the RFP process, according to GuelphToday.com.

CAO Manny Baron said to council that after a long technical and financial review, his opinion was the town shouldn’t go any further in the RFP process,” reported GuelphToday.com. “Council was in agreement with the CAO and many felt there was too much risk involved in having a private company run water and wastewater.” The township will now be looking at how best to move forward with the project on its own.

Mapleton recognized the risks in a plan that would have given private, for-profit corporations control over their water and wastewater system. Mapleton township joins other communities in Canada and around the world—from Port Hardy and White Rock, BC to Banff, Okotoks and Taber, AB to Berlin, Germany and Paris, France—in acknowledging that water should be public.

It’s time to scrap the Canada Infrastructure Bank and provide funding and low-cost loans directly to municipalities to help build the water and wastewater infrastructure they need.