Warning message

Please note that this page is from our archives. There may be more up-to-date content about this topic on our website. Use our search engine to find out.
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Sid Ryan. Im president of the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Im pleased to be here with Gus Oliveira, president of CUPE 5167, which represents so many of your employees. CUPE is the largest union in Canada, representing workers in most municipalities.

But thats not the reason were here today. We do not currently represent any employees at the citys water and wastewater facilities. Even before Hamilton council decided to contract out the service 10 years ago, we represented only five maintenance staff. Those positions have since been eliminated, along with about 66 other jobs.

No, were here today because the more than 500,000 members of our union believe that publicly funded, delivered and operated water systems are the only to assure high quality, accessibility and accountability.

Hamiltons water system has become both famous and infamous across Canada. Yours was the first large water system in Canada to be contracted out to a private operator.

And, I dont think that over the last 10 years you have had too much good news about that contract.

Since the first contact was handed to Philip Utilities in 1994, the system has gone through the hands of two more operators both with ownership outside of Canada.Hamilton residents have experienced violations of environmental standards, sewage floods, untreated sewage dumped into the harbour, foul tasting water and many, many water main breaks.

Some may argue that these things would have happened anyway. We dont think so; but how can any of us know for sure? If performance reviews of the contractor have been conducted in the past few years, they have not been made public.

We do know, however, some of the things that have worked against public accountability and good financial management.

The contract has a built-in incentive for a for-profit company to delay ongoing maintenance. For a company whose primary objective is realizing a profit, it just makes sense to let problems fester until the cost of repair exceeds $10,000 the point at which the city has to pay.

We have heard about very serious problems from city workers who have visited the facilities for repairs and inspections.

Digesters have been allowed to saturate.

Continuous pressure on the covers has damaged their anchor systems, making the stops attached to the covers inoperable until the covers were replaced.

The compressors that drive the gas elimination/control systems have been allowed to seize.

Relief valves operate continually rather than intermittently.

The apparatus for burning the gas was not properly maintained and methane filled the area. Can you imagine being the person assigned to weld covers in these areas?

Of course, if youre a gardener you might be happy to hear about the six inches of raw sewage that was allowed to collect between the digesters on the roof of one structure. City staff found a healthy crop of tomato plants growing there.

One of the rationales in your staff report for continuing to contract out the service is that it provides operating flexibility. We ask: for whom?

Currently, the city must ask permission of the operator before entering the grounds for investigation, repairs, sampling or any other purpose. Weve heard a lot about the silly games that ensue.

The operator can delay city inspections until theyve fixed up problem areas.

As staff have tried to follow through with the current infrastructure upgrades program, we hear, the operator has used the absence of language in the contract to force them to alter their work schedules, specifications, materials and more under threat of refusing access.

Theres been a suggestion that all of these problems would disappear if the contract were stronger. Your lawyers have recommended that the next contract should perhaps have financial rewards for good quality service.

Our question is: why should the people of Hamilton have to pay more for quality? When you contract a company to do a job, dont you expect them to do it right?

Take back the operations and have the work done by public servants whose job it is to provide high quality public services at no extra cost.

CUPE is aware that Hamilton and municipal governments across the country face terrific financial challenges. Nationwide, water and wastewater infrastructure improvements are projected to cost up to $90 billion.

Thats why CUPE will continue to pressure federal, provincial and territorial governments to provide more funding for municipal water and wastewater systems.

Because we dont believe that you help your city or your residents by contracting out the service. Whether its on the citys books or not, residents still pay and, when its privatized, the evidence suggests they pay more. And moving the cost off the citys books only hides the expenditure.

Were not the only ones to say that. Just look at the list of cities that have decided against privatized or P3 operations: Winnipeg, Halifax, Moncton, Toronto, Vancouver, Saint John, Kamloops.

We heard from the OConnor inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy that only about 6% of municipal water systems in Ontario are contracted to private companies. Does Hamilton really want to be part of that minority?

Mr. Justice OConnor said: the provision of drinking water is characterized by a high degree of natural monopoly. In other words, the service in terms of both water treatment and distribution can realistically only be provided by a single entity. The need to ensure the accountability of that entity is acute and, as such, it is understandable why municipalities have played a central role in the provision of drinking water.

We recommend that the City of Hamilton continue to play that role in terms of both ownership and operation of your water systems.

Public health and safety has to be the paramount consideration for delivery of water and treatment of wastewater. Private corporations have profit, not public good, as their primary objective. Water systems must be owned by the people and operated in their interest.

There is a loss of control and lack of accountability when services are privatized. Youve experienced that right here.

No contracts with private companies can make them fully accountable. A tighter contract will not overcome the problems you have had. Hamiltons experience demonstrates precisely that private companies can walk away from contracts, as Philip did with recycling when they couldnt make a profit, or they can go bankrupt, even when theyre as big as Enron.

Private companies are accountable first to their shareholders. Their corporate boards are not open to hear public opinion or have their decisions and actions scrutinized by the public like council committees and public boards are.

And, there is no evidence that they cost less than direct public ownership and operation.

It is our sincere recommendation that you adopt the so-called Municipal Model and bring all operations and maintenance of the water and wastewater systems back into direct municipal delivery.

We believe direct municipal delivery will better ensure the health and safety of the people of Hamilton, will be financially superior to contracting out and is better suited to meeting the municipalitys performance objectives.

Finally, we have one more recommendation should you find yourselves struggling over this decision.

Your own lawyers said they were unable to confirm whether any anticipated cost savings have been achieved with the private contract.

None of us know how much the city spent on maintenance and repair projects over the $10,000 mark; the water divisions budget report at the end of 2002 did not show savings. The information gaps are huge.

Before you rush headlong into another contract, get an independent audit of the first one.

Or, save yourselves and the taxpayers that cost, too, by doing the right thing.

Adopt the Muncipal Model and provide safe, accessible water and high quality wastewater services to the people of Hamilton.