Abbotsford encouraged to vote 'no' in water privatization referendum

November 18, 2011
Media Release

A ‘NO’ vote in Abbotsford referendum to set precedent for protecting public water services across Canada

This Saturday, Abbotsford will take the critical vote on whether or not to support a Public-Private Partnership (P3) that the city has proposed where a private company would design, build and operate a proposed water source and treatment centre at Stave Lake for up to 30 years.

"There are serious concerns about water privatization," says Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow. "The Stave Lake project would be only the second full-bore (Design, Build, Finance, Operate) water privatization scheme in Canada and would set a dangerous precedent across the country. P3s cost more than public water services, lack transparency and threaten local democracy. On November 19, citizens of Abbotsford need to say ‘no’ to a P3 in Abbotsford."

The P3 Stave Lake project would cost $300 million - the largest privately financed undertaking in the water sector in Canada to date. The Harper government has agreed to spend $65.7 million of public money on it from the P3 Canada Fund. The fund explicitly promotes the privatization of public services by only funding P3s in water and wastewater, transportation and communications.

Originally, the P3 plan involved neighbouring city Mission. However, due to public concern and protest against P3s, the Mission Council decided not to join Abbotsford in their application to the P3 Canada Fund.

“The city has spent more than $200,000 on a one-sided campaign promoting this P3 project," says Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui. "The city's website claims that current water supply will not be able to meet demands after 2016. However former Abbotsford Chief City Engineer Ed Regts has highlighted that the current water sources for Abbotsford are not even close to capacity and are more than able to provide water for Abbotsford until at least 2023." In addition, the Abbotsford-Mission Water and Sewer Commission has stated the current water supply is sufficient – as long as conservation measures take place – until 2031.

“The Harper government is also seeking a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe that would encourage and then lock in water privatization contracts," Barlow adds, noting European Union negotiators have been asking that Canada’s municipalities and their water utilities be included in a chapter on public procurement. “The goal is to expand the role of private EU-based water firms in the delivery, treatment and management of municipal water systems in Canada.”

The Council of Canadians is part of Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford, a broad-based coalition of nearly 1000 community activists and representatives from organizations. The Council of Canadians is urging citizens in Abbotsford to protect water as a human right, commons and public trust by voting ‘no’ in the referendum on Saturday, November 19, 2011.