EPCOR wasn’t exactly “voted off the Island,” to borrow a popular TV phrase, but a late August decision by the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) to back away from the private water corporation is a very good start.
Bowing to political pressure drummed up by CUPE BC’s Water Watch campaign, the RDN now appears to be hesitating over a deal with EPCOR, a utilities corporation that was aiming to take over the region’s water services. EPCOR is owned by the City of Edmonton and run by an arm’s length board.
CUPE’s campaign has galvanized local residents and prompted unwelcome media attention less than three months before community elections. On Aug. 23, more than 200 residents flooded the RDN offices to demand that their water be kept public, and a CUPE delegation addressed the region’s regular board meeting to shoot holes through a proposed public private partnership between the RDN and EPCOR. The result: the board passed a unanimous motion to cancel negotiations with EPCOR for the operation of water systems for 14 district areas currently under RDN administration.
“This is a very big victory,” CUPE 401 president Rodger Oakley said after the motion carried. “Now they know this issue is on the radar, and that they can’t fool the residents before elections on November 19.”
Earlier this year, EPCOR applied to the provincial Comptroller of Water Rights to purchase the French Creek water system, including all of its assets. French Creek is the only service area within the RDN that is privately owned. EPCOR’s application to buy the service area from Breakwater Enterprises Ltd. is now being reviewed in Victoria without meaningful public consultation. But that could change after the RDN board meeting.
“EPCOR is going to regroup after this, that’s for sure,” said Oakley. “But now it’s going to be harder for them to get their hands on anything without the public being informed.”
Recent developments such as EPCOR’s move into B.C. water services highlight the dangers of commercialized utilities, including the loss of community ownership and control. In Edmonton, CUPE 30 represents both EPCOR and Edmonton municipal workers. The local is opposing a move by city council to hand control and ownership of sewage and drainage services to EPCOR. CUPE 30 says moving the $11-billion asset into EPCOR’s hands means Edmonton voters will lose control over city assets. “Sewage and drainage services represent over half of the city asset base,” said Alex Grimaldi, CUPE 30 president. “Giving that asset to an EPCOR board of directors, who are not directly accountable to the voters, makes no sense.”