CUPE, the union representing city water workers, has had a prominent behind-the-scenes role in the debate over the P3 water referendum in Abbotsford.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has paid for newspaper advertising and mailouts, urging people to vote no to the city’s proposed public-private partnership to build a new water system to tap Stave Lake.
Critics say CUPE’s involvement with Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford serves to discredit the group.
CUPE’s website shows Water Watch listed under the heading “CUPE Campaigns.” It lists the local WWMA group along with seven others around B.C.
But WWMA spokesperson Lynn Perrin says her group is not controlled by the union.
“CUPE is an ally, and so is the Council of Canadians,” said Perrin. “CUPE and the Council of Canadians have been working on public water concerns for quite awhile.”
She said both groups have contributed financially to the Abbotsford WWMA campaign for a “no” vote, but not to Perrin’s personal campaign for council.
She said CUPE Local 774 was informed about the P3 proposal in June 2010, but WWMA did not form until March 9, when she and other citizens learned of the plan.
Perrin said whether CUPE would lose jobs under a P3 deal is not certain, adding the union has been successful in negotiating automatic certification for public services that have been privatized in the past.
Asked why CUPE is not identified in Water Watch’s advertising, and why the union does not want to be publicly associated with WWMA, Perrin said, “You’ll have to ask them.
“I’m not CUPE, I’m the community,” she answered.
Murray Bush, a CUPE communications representative, said CUPE has contributed financially to Water Watch campaigns in Abbotsford and elsewhere, but that Water Watch is a separate entity.
“It’s not an arm of CUPE, I can tell you that,” said Bush.
Diane Kalen-Sukra, CUPE’s B.C. privatization coordinator and B.C. Water Watch coordinator, responded to questions about CUPE’s involvement by email, saying:
“Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford is a broad based coalition of concerned community members and organizations, including the Council of Canadians and CUPE. We have almost 1,000 people on our supporters lists, names we have gathered in our volunteer outreach activities since the summer. We have neither endorsed nor funded any municipal candidates. Our primary activity has been face-to-face contact with community members as we do not have the resources (like the city) to conduct polls, hire a P3 army (literally 13 full-time employees to sell the City project and a Vancouver ad agency tied to the NPA), divert staff resources and engage in costly blanket advertising – you can see for yourself that Abbotsford is plastered with city propaganda paid for by taxpayers without their consent.
Opposition to this P3 water project runs deep and includes men and women, students, members of all faith communities, farmers, business people, water workers – folks from all walks of life. To suggest other motives is to ignore that the city’s fear-mongering campaign to push this water P3 is deeply unpopular.”