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NEWS: P3 fight in Abbotsford heats up prior to Saturday’s vote

The battle is clearly on in Abbotsford, British Columbia over what would be the largest privately financed water project in Canada to date. The proposed project – which involves the city entering into a 25-year or more contract with a private business to build, partially finance and operate a new water facility – will be decided by voters in a referendum on Saturday November 19.

In today’s Financial Post, Environment Probe’s executive director Elizabeth Brubaker takes aim at those who support the public alternative. She writes, “CUPE – campaigning on the slogan ‘Water for life, not for profit’ – claims that private-sector involvement will mean higher costs, lower quality and a loss of public control over water. It presages disaster at every opportunity…. And of course Maude Barlow is campaigning for ‘precious’ public water. Last month in Abbotsford, she sounded alarms about the inevitability of tap turn-offs and delayed repairs under private operations — all ‘because they’re in it for profit; they’re not in it for service’. …If voters can see through CUPE’s ill-informed and self-interested opposition, they will approve the Stave Lake project. Abbotsford’s demonstration that the private sector can help municipalities finance and operate water systems will then help pave the way for P3s elsewhere in Canada.”

Earlier today, the Abbotsford Times focused on the relationship between Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford and CUPE. They reported, “(WWMA founder Lynn) Perrin said she raised the warning about the P3 aspect in March, and met with like-minded people to form the Water Watch group. ‘There was no more than 10 per cent at that first meeting who were CUPE members,’ she said. …WWMA does get some financial support for campaign materials from the Canadian Union of Employees and the Council of Canadians, but Perrin couldn’t say how much. Most of the support comes from grassroots activists like her, and the COC has been an ally from the start, she said. There are no CUPE researchers helping the group, she added.”

The Abbotsford News was more direct. They reported, “CUPE, the union representing city water workers, has had a prominent behind-the-scenes role in the debate over the P3 water referendum in Abbotsford. The Canadian Union of Public Employees has paid for newspaper advertising and mailouts, urging people to vote no to the city’s proposed public-private partnership to build a new water system to tap Stave Lake. Critics say CUPE’s involvement with Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford serves to discredit the group. …But WWMA spokesperson Lynn Perrin says her group is not controlled by the union. ‘CUPE is an ally, and so is the Council of Canadians,’ said Perrin. ‘CUPE and the Council of Canadians have been working on public water concerns for quite awhile.’ She said both groups have contributed financially to the Abbotsford WWMA campaign for a ‘no’ vote, but not to Perrin’s personal campaign for council.”

And in a column in favour of the P3 also in today’s Abbotsford News, John Hunter, a retired businessman who has been involved in P3s in Canada, Venezuela, Mexico, China and Indonesia, writes, “The claim that a P3er treating your water will control it, own it, price it, sell it, and so on is nonsense, unless you sign a contract allowing that. Even then it may be impossible under Canadian or B.C. law. It’s akin to claiming that the shop that services your car now controls it. I could also write pages about what are, in my opinion, trade agreement myths by Maude Barlow and CUPE.”

The referendum will be close. On October 21, the Abbotsford Times reported, “In a recent telephone survey of registered voters commissioned by the city, respondents were split as to whether they would vote in favour of the project. Forty-five per cent of those questioned would vote for the plan while 30 per cent said they were opposed.”

To see our action alert encouraging people to vote ‘no’ in the referendum please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=11761. We have also sent a message to all Council of Canadians members in Abbotsford encouraging them to vote ‘no’ in Saturday’s referendum. The Abbotsford Times would not accept our op-ed against the P3 proposal, so we will be issuing a media release tomorrow morning to raise our concerns in the various other Abbotsford media outlets prior to the vote.

For Council of Canadians blogs on the P3 danger in Abbotsford, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?s=abbotsford.