I had the pleasure of spending this afternoon with Winnipeg chapter activist Michael Welch.
Michael is also the co-chair of Winnipeg Water Watch and is a broadcaster with CKUW 95.9 FM radio.
He has been instrumental in the growing campaign that questions the secret 30-year, $1.2 billion deal signed by the City of Winnipeg and Veolia. With the contract, the private company will design, build and help manage $661 million in upgrades to two wastewater plants.
No one on city council has seen the contract, which was drafted by city hall’s legal staff.
Winnipeg Sun columnist Joyanne Pursaga wrote on September 25 that, “In that context, it’s no surprise one advocacy group is trying to make the mysterious deal a 2010 civic election issue. The Council of Canadians has filed an official complaint about the wastewater deal with the provincial ombudsman. The city still awaits provincial approval on the deal. The group also requested a copy of the contract under freedom of information legislation, which the city denied.”
In a recent article in the University of Winnipeg newspaper The Uniter, Michael says, “Transparency is important for the protection of the citizens. Especially when it involves hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds, there has to be a way to keep our decision makers accountable. The cost, ultimately, is trust. We have to be able to trust our decision makers.”
Winnipeg will vote for a mayor and city council on October 27.
Mayor Sam Katz has refused to release the terms of the deal. Nine of the councillors running in this election voted in favour of the deal. Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis has described the Veolia contract as part of Katz’s secret city hall agenda.
Among other actions, the chapter is working with partner groups to organize a public forum just prior to the election that would include a speaker from Indianapolis to share that city’s experiences with Veolia.
Michael recently wrote in The Uniter, “Whether the mayor is ultimately held to account on this critical public interest concern, however, will of course depend on the willingness of the electorate to continue the job Water Watch started.”