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Under NAFTA, public private partnerships are a bad deal. Thats the conclusion of a newly-released legal opinion on the Halifax Harbour cleanup.

The opinion, commissioned by CUPE from Steven Shrybman, one of Canadas leading experts in international trade law, warns that plans by the Halifax Regional Municipality to privatize the harbour cleanup will put public control of the project at grave risk. Under the proposed scheme, one of two multinational consortia would be contracted to design, build and operate four new water treatment plants.

Says Shrybman, If HRM does opt into such a relationship, NAFTA and WTO obligations could make it difficult, if not impossible, for the city to return management of the plant to direct public control.

As a result, Shrybman says, it will be hard for the municipality to maintain the highest standards of wastewater quality, or to ensure that sewage treatment truly remains a public service.

The opinion clearly shows that if HRM chooses to privatize the harbour cleanup, it will not only be bad public policy but bad business as well, says Nova Scotia division president Betty-Jean Sutherland. This legal opinion tells us loud and clear that HRM is about to sign a deal that will lock taxpayers into an airtight relationship with a multinational corporation for at least the next 30 years.

Any effort by HRM to sever the deal could leave taxpayers liable to the company for loss of future profits damages that would run well into the tens of millions of dollars, says Sutherland. HRM should follow the lead of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and cancel its plans to privatize the harbour cleanup.

Shrybman also says that under NAFTA, any efforts by government to apply environmental and public health measures including standards for wastewater, or remedial orders by local public health officials would be subject to international adjudication or commercial arbitration.

CUPE and its coalition partners are mounting a major push in the coming weeks to convince Council that a public option is better. A decision on the long-delayed project could come as soon as early November.