Over the past year, the Council of Canadians has been calling for the City of Winnipeg’s contract with the transnational corporation Veolia to be made public. Last week, the contract was finally made public.
It was not easy to get this contract released. In September 2010, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that, “The Council of Canadians-Winnipeg Chapter announced it had filed a complaint (with the Provincial Ombudsman’s office over city hall’s refusal to release details on the controversial Veolia contract) and is encouraging candidates in the civic election to make the Veolia contract a key campaign issue.” And in March 2011, the Winnipeg chapter launched a petition that says, “We the undersigned call on Winnipeg City Council to publicly disclose all the details of the secret 30 year deal with Veolia for upgrades to our wastewater system. Contracts that involve huge public expenditures and long term relations must be transparent. It is essential that all partners and contractors be held publicly accountable.”
And while the people of Winnipeg still face a 30-year public-private partnership contract with Veolia, it would appear that public pressure resulted in a scaling back of the contract. A strong critic of the P3 plan, Winnipeg city councillor Jenny Gerbasi, says, “In a way, it’s a victory. Thanks to a lot of public pressure, what was first proposed has been scaled right down. The projects will be publicly run, owned and financed. (But it is important to monitor given) we still have a 30-year contract.”
The Winnipeg Free Press adds, “The final deal will see four to fifteen Veolia staffers work in Winnipeg at any given time during the next 30 years to help design, build, manage and obtain materials for sewage-treatment plants that will remain owned by the city and operated by city staff… The city and Veolia will jointly lay out project goals every year and report those plans to council. Either party can back out of the deal at any time, with or without cause, although ending the deal without cause would cost the city $5 million and Veolia $10 million.”
This is considerably different from Winnipeg city council’s original decision to dissolve its water and waste department and create a new agency (with significant corporate ownership) that would have assumed responsibility for water treatment, sewage treatment and garbage and recycling pickup. In May 2010, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, “The City of Winnipeg has trashed the most controversial aspect of its plan to create a new water, sewer and garbage utility – the possibility a private engineering firm could own part of a subsidiary of the new arm’s-length corporation. Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz now says there will be no such partner and a private engineering firm will not own any aspect of the new utility.”
The Council of Canadians continues to oppose Winnipeg’s P3 relationsip with Veolia. As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press last week, “The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians issued a statement condemning the contract, claiming the partnership between a ‘profit-making entity’ and ‘a vital public service’ will harm the community.”