The federal government has approved $65.7 million in federal funding – more than the $61 million applied for by the city – for a proposed public-private partnership to create a new $291 million water source and treatment plant at Stave Lake.
MP Ed Fast announced on Friday morning that Ottawa has approved the city’s application for a joint infrastructure project with PPP Canada. The federal government will contribute 25 per cent of the eligible cost, up to the $65.7 million maximum, depending on final costs.
Fast, who is the Minister of International Trade, said the funding is the largest federal investment ever made in Abbotsford, and called it “an astounding amount,” for a city of 140,000 to access.
It tops $35 million that was announced to expand the Abbotsford International Airport and build new highway overpasses at Clearbrook and McCallum roads under the national economic stimulus fund of 2009.
When the federal government put together a $12-billion infrastructure stimulus package in 2009, a portion of the funding was made available to municipalities through P3 Canada. He said that money was set aside for municipalities to “explore the P3 model, and harness some of the strengths of the private sector.”
While virtually all of the infrastructure funding has been spent, Fast said Abbotsford was “astute” in identifying there was still P3 funding available.
For the city to use the funds, its Stave Lake water plan will have to be approved by voters in a Nov. 19 municipal election referendum.
Fast, a former city councillor who served on the water commission, declined to comment on the plan, saying it is an issue for voters to decide. However, he said the federal due diligence in examining the city’s application is reassurance for him.
“We would not have approved this funding if we did not believe this is a viable project.”
While he is proud to be able to offer the funding to his constituents, Fast will not be part of Abbotsford’s P3 debate.
“I want to recognize that ultimately it is the voters of Abbotsford who will decide.”
For more than a decade, with Conservative MPs representing Abbotsford to a Liberal government, there were complaints the city was neglected when federal funding was apportioned.
“It’s nice to know that finally there’s a federal government that pays attention to Abbotsford,” said Fast.
On hand for Friday’s announcement was PPP Canada CEO John McBride who said as far as he’s concerned the “project is a go” as long as Abbotsford voters approve.
He said not every project that applies for funding is approved.
“We evaluate them on merit,” said McBride, adding there has to be a benefit to the taxpayers.
PPP Canada found the Stave Lake project, constructed as a P3, would save taxpayers more than 11 per cent.
Now that 25 per cent funding has been acquired, Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said that savings could jump up to as high as 30 per cent.
“It was good to hear Ed (Fast) say that the federal government had done its due diligence … now it’s not just the city saying it’s a good deal, it’s the federal government saying it’s a good deal.”
Peary said today’s announcement changes the word “might” to “will.”
“We will have the funding … now we have a solid proposal to put in front of people.”
In a written statement, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), who are critical of the P3 plan, called the funding announcement “the federal government’s way of pushing communities to privatize public services.”
It also states “public private partnerships still cost more, due to higher borrowing costs, the loss of the community partner, less accountability and higher operating costs.”
Water Watch Mission- Abbotsford spokesperson Lynn Perrin is quoted in therelease saying “It is abhorrent policy for the federal government to dictate to communities that in order to access our federal tax dollars for vital infrastructure we need to privatize our services.”