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Edmonton chapter to attend City Council debate on privatization of drainage services, April 12

The Council of Canadians Edmonton chapter will be at their City Council’s debate on Epcor’s bid to run the City’s drainage services as a business.

That debate is expected to happen on April 12 (see agenda).

Epcor wants to take over the drainage services currently publicly-owned and operated by the City of Edmonton. Among other assets, the proposed purchase would give the company 6,000 kilometres of storm, sanitary and combined drainage pipes and 240 stormwater ponds and management facilities.

Epcor is a for-profit municipal corporate utility (MCU), a city-owned business that operates as a private corporate entity without public reporting requirements. A CUPE fact sheet highlights, “Epcor Water Services continues to promote privatized water and wastewater systems in Alberta and British Columbia.”

If Epcor were to take on the drainage services, there would be consequences for transparency and accountability.

The Edmonton Journal has reported, “Drainage officials currently report publicly about once a month in front of a drainage committee. They’re subject to freedom of information legislation and the city auditor’s office. None of that applies to Epcor. Instead, it files an annual report in its water services to council. The meetings of its 10-member city-appointed board are private, as are its quarterly meetings with city councillors.”

That may be part of the reason City Council has rejected previous requests from Epcor to takeover drainage services in 1997, 2005 and 2009.

Earlier this year, Metro News reported, “When it comes to transferring city-owned and operated drainage to city-owned Epcor, Edmonton city council isn’t yet ready to say yes or no. Indeed, in a 7-6 vote [on January 24], council decided to ask its administration to examine concerns of transparency involving Epcor’s potential take-over of drainage operations, before it makes a final decision.”

That vote on January 24 was likely influenced by a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Edmonton chapter intervention.

Chapter activist Robert Wilde tells us, “There were three of us from the Edmonton chapter – Rod Olstad, Sheryl McCumsey and I – who, with seven other persons, voiced our concerns about a proposed transfer of city drainage assets to Epcor. Rod stated that water issues are one of the enduring concerns of our organization, Sheryl produced evidence that Canada doesn’t have water standards for health, only guidelines, and I added my voice to all those (the other seven community activists there) who expressed concerns about accountability and City Council’s ability to oversee Epcor’s activities.”

CUPE Local 30 president Mike Scott also spoke at that meeting on behalf of the City’s drainage services workers.

In a letter posted on the CUPE website today, Scott says, “The main question we would like to ask your Councillor is: ‘Do you feel it is right to be making this decision so soon before an election? This deal will have a long-lasting impact on the citizens and ratepayers of Edmonton and should be put aside until after the election in October.'”