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LETTER: ‘Winnipeg’s proposed water plan is wrong’, says Paul Moist

Paul Moist, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, writes in a letter to the editor in today’s Globe and Mail that Winnipeg’s “nearly 100-page business plan charts a course for an unprecedented private-sector involvement in $650-million in wastewater treatment plant upgrades.”

He notes, “This capital work should appropriately be carried out by the private sector. But to let them finance it over 30 years, when the difference between public- and private-sector borrowing cost is at a historical high, is both a misguided and expensive policy decision.”

Moist concludes, “Handing these firms up to a 49-per-cent equity stake in these public assets is wrong, and the key reason public opinion is at odds with where city council appears to be heading.”

On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported that Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz “is endorsing a plan to split off the Water and Waste Department from the city and place it in an arm’s-length corporation, much like some provincial Crown corporations, but with a major catch: The new utility would be a partnership between the city and a private-sector company. The company would share the risk of construction financing and overruns. But that risk could come with a huge reward – the potential bonanza of expanding the utility to serve thirsty markets beyond city limits. Even before the business plan has passed, 15 companies have applied for consideration.”

Maude Barlow, national chair for the Council of Canadians, said, “It may seem like a small decision – should the City of Winnipeg allow a public-private utility model – but it’s part of a larger question that’s being fought on the ground all over the world.”

The article noted, “Some 90 per cent of the country’s water systems lie in municipal hands, and (opponents) fear conversion of Winnipeg to a private-sector partnership could set off a cascading effect across the country. Such a trend could create a continental market for water services.”

Barlow added, “Who gets water and who doesn’t would be determined by the market. It would become just another commodity like electricity, running shoes or Coca-Cola.”

City councillor Jenny Gerbasi, who will submit a motion to delay the water vote (scheduled for today) until the fall, said “The focus seems to be solely on the money to be made from the sale of these services to exurban communities.”

On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail editorial board wrote, “The (City of Winnipeg’s plan for an) arm’s-length (water) utility offers a real hope of greater consistency (for water infrastructure funding). The idea of a private-sector partner is not fully developed, but does not seem to amount to a privatization, as opponents claim.”

To take action (this morning), go to our ‘ACTION ALERT: Defer decision on commercialization of Winnipeg’s water utility’ at http://canadians.org/action/2009/09-July-09.html.

Paul Moist’s letter can be read at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/july-22-letters-to-the-editor/article1226415/.

To find out more about this issue, please go to our campaign blog ‘AUDIO: Council of Canadians on Winnipeg’s water plans’ at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=928.

The full article from page A3 of Monday’s Globe and Mail can be read at http://theglobeandmail.com/news/national/winnipeggers-battle-city-proposal-to-privatize-water-system/article1224306/.

The Globe and Mail editorial is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/editorials/no-such-thing-as-free-water/article1225407/.