How voting ‘No’ to a P3 in Abbotsford’s public referendum will be a ‘Yes’ to public water

Emma Lui
10 years ago
On November 19th, citizens of Abbotsford, British Columbia will go to the polls not only to vote for a mayor and city councillors but they will also vote on whether Abbotsford will privatize its water system.

The public referendum will ask voters whether they are in favour of the City of Abbotsford “entering into a partnering agreement with a private sector partner that will design, build, partially finance and operate a water supply and distribution system from Stave Lake for up to thirty (30) years.” To read the full referendum question, click here.

This is only the second full-bore (Design, Build, Finance, Operate) water privatization scheme in Canada and would set a dangerous precedent if it is allowed to proceed. The federal government is in the final stages of negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe which could lock cities into water privatization contracts. To learn about the impacts of CETA on our water services, read Public water for sale: How Canada will privatize our public water systems.

What you can do

Support Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford (WWMA) in their fight against water privatization:

If you live in Abbotsford, please be sure to go out and vote ‘No’ on Saturday, November 19th. In the meantime, if you are interested in being a Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford brigadier, helping staff community booths or hand out flyers at events, contact WWMA.

If you have family or friends in Abbotsford, please circulate this information to them and encourage them to go out and vote ‘No’ on November 19th.

The Stave Lake P3 Proposal

The City of Abbotsford submitted a proposal to Public-Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) for partial funding of a new water treatment system. Originally, the plan included Mission, British Columbia, but when Mission council voted against submitting the proposal to PPP Canada, Abbotsford submitted the application alone.

The new Abbotsford City website claims that current water supply will not be able to meet demands after 2016. The proposal claims that it will provide Abbotsford with an additional 100 million litres of water per day. But as CUPE BC notes, former City engineer Ed Regts says the current water sources for Abbotsford are not even close to capacity and are “more than capable of providing enough water for Abbotsford until at least 2023.”

Regts adds “All the current wells we use that have been upgraded to include treatment could immediately be increased by 20 million litres per day. If we upgraded the pipeline from the treatment facility at Norrish Creek we could add another 51 million litres per day. If you add that capacity, you are far from a shortage.”

The Stave Lake project will cost a total of $291 million of which $61 million is to be funded by the federal government. The plan was submitted to Public-Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) for partial funding for a water works project to be completed with private investments and municipal funds. Last Friday, Minister of International Trade and Member of Parliament for Abbotsford, Ed Fast, announced that the federal government would “contribute up to $65.7 million through the P3 Canada Fund towards the Stave Lake Water Project.”

PPP Canada and the privatization of our public services

PPP Canada became operational in February 2009 and has a total of $1.2 billion to allocate under the P3 Canada Fund. PPP Canada explicitly promotes privatization of public services by only providing funding to P3s in water and wastewater, transportation and communications. In water and wastewater services, PPP Canada has approved funding for the Lac La Biche Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) Wastewater Treatment Facility in Alberta ($3.8 milllion) and the Evan Thomas Water and Wastewater Plant in Kananaskis Country, Alberta ($9.95 million).

PPP Canada states that the P3 fund was created “to improve the delivery of public infrastructure and provide better value, timeliness and accountability by increasing the effective use of P3.” However, P3s in Canada have been found to be more costly and as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes “a string of failures, delays, little transparency, and secretive deals proved these claims wrong.”

Water is a commons – a shared entity to be carefully managed by all – and the allocation of funding for water services under a P3 entrenches water governance within a neoliberal, market framework that favours profit over human rights, environmental protection, social justice and public health.

Demands to keep Abbotsford’s water public

Leading the fight against the privatization of Abbotsford’s water is Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford (WWMA). The volunteer membership consists of individuals, ecumenical organizations, environmental organizations, businesses, social justice activists and organizations, anti poverty organizations, unions, retired workers and other community groups.

Concerns about the project include cost, the precariousness of a private company operating the water treatment plant and the ability of the public to access information about the project.

WWMA has also expressed concern about the fact that the city is spending $200K on a one-sided propaganda campaign and that they have diverted enormous staff resources and hired and additional 13 “P3 staff” to work full time on selling this thing to the public is significant. Over 83% of poll respondents find Abby city costly pro-P3 spin "a brutal, shameless propaganda campaign."

Vote 'no' and keep water public!