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Will Prentice’s plan promote privatization of wastewater treatment?

We are yet to see the details, but Jim Prentice warned Canadian municipalities in early August that they would have to bring their sewage treatment plants up to snuff under new regulations that would be announced later this year. The environmental movement has been calling for national sewage standards for decades now. Improving Canadian wastewater treatment should be a priority given Canada currently dumps billions of litres of raw sewage directly into our waterways. The worst offenders are coastal cities. Victoria, the worst offender, discharges all its raw sewage untreated into the ocean. A 2004 Ecojustice study revealed that eight Canadian municipalities including Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton alone generated 3.0 billion litres of minimally treated sewage per day!

Prentice of course, did not make clear what the federal government was willing to contribute financially to make this happen. Canadian municipalities currently face a $31 billion deficit in water and wastewater infrastructure funding alone according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The Harper government’s strategy for municipal funding, the Building Canada Plan, forces municipalities seeking $50 million of federal funding or more to explore private sector investments. The Building Canada Plan also includes a $1.25 billion public-private-partnership fund.

The question is whether the Harper government’s plan for sewage treatment in Canada will include a transfer of funds to enable municipalities to build, upgrade and maintain public infrastructure for sewage treatment or whether this is a strategy to force cash-strapped municipalities to resort to privatization.

Piecemeal legislation can be harmful if it is not part of a broader strategy to protect both environmental needs and the public interest. What Canada needs is a comprehensive national water policy.