Anti-P3 panel convenes in Regina for evening speeches

September 11, 2013 - 3:29pm
Several speakers including Maude Barlow, second from right, will be at the U of R Wednesday night. Photo by Kevin Martel, News Talk Radio.
Several speakers including Maude Barlow, second from right, will be at the U of R Wednesday night. Photo by Kevin Martel, News Talk Radio.

Several speakers convening at the University of Regina tonight say Reginans will regret their decision very quickly if they choose to vote in favour of a public-private partnership (P3) for the new sewage treatment plant.

“It is absolutely essential that we not hand our water services and our water systems and our actual water supplies over to the private sector around the world,” said Maude Barlow with the Council of Canadians.

Barlow is on a panel with two experts that will speak at the U of R's Education Auditorium Wednesday night. They were brought to the city by Regina Water Watch, the group made up of environmentalists, local activists, and CUPE members and executives that has been leading the charge against a P3 funding model for the city's waste water treatment plant project. They'll attempt to convince people in attendance that they should vote in favour of the referendum that will take place on Sept. 25, a vote that will ask if the city should “publicly finance, operate and maintain the new wastewater treatment plant for Regina through a traditional Design, Bid, Build approach.”

“If Regina goes ahead to privatizing its water, I promise you, in five years you’ll be having a debate about how to undo this,” Barlow said. “It’s happening all over the world where communities have gone the private route [and] they’re sorry.”

It should be noted that Regina's City Council has stated adamantly since even before a P3 funding model was chosen in February that even though a private company would be hired to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the new facility for 30 years the City of Regina would still retain ultimate ownership and control of the treatment plant itself, and the treated effluent discharged from the plant. Mayor Michael Fougere has stated numerous times that there is no element of privatization in the deal.

Barlow says it's no surprise the referendum issue has been divisive in Regina. She believes, based on her research, whenever communities discuss P3s they are always a contentious issue.

“Wherever it’s happened in the world it’s controversial,” she claimed.

That statement contradicts a recent report issued by the Conference Board Of Canada, whose analysis of P3 projects put into place in the last decade shows that opposition to water and waste water plant P3s is a phenomenon seen only in this country.

Barlow explained that her opposition is also based on the public good. She said when a public entity has control it’s providing a service and is not-for-profit. When money is charged for the service those dollars go back into infrastructure. In contrast, Barlow insisted that if a private company takes over the plant its only interest would be in making a profit; she believes that would usually be at least 15 per cent.

To her way of thinking that means water and sewer utility rates will be higher down the line.

“Over time the people of Regina will come to regret this because you will be paying; your children and even your grandchildren will be paying exorbanent rates.”

The City has been adamant it’ll always maintain control of the plant and therefore will be the ones controlling the rates. The utility has already increased rates by nine per cent each year for the past six years in order to save money for the treatment plant project. As part of its campaign to convince voters to vote no the city has been reminding them through an expensive ad campaign the federal government agreed to put up to $58.5 million of funding towards the project, as long as it uses a P3 funding model. The City has also stated that the average water bill will have to go up $276 a year if the referendum succeeds because that revenue will be lost, however the Mayor has admitted that was essentially an arbitrary selection because City Council ultimately sets the utility rate.