LETTER: Full public debate on water

Re: Privatization of Mission and Abbotsford’s Drinking Water Treatment

I am writing to respond to the open letter published in the Abbotsford News on March 31.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees respectfully disagrees with Mayor Peary’s assertion that Mission and Abbotsford councils have no plan to privatize drinking water treatment.

The councils are planning a full-scale design/build/finance/operate (DBFO) “public-private partnership” (P3) for Stave Lake water treatment and supply.

What the mayor’s letter does not mention is that the minimum duration of the proposed operating contract will be 25 years – and possibly longer. This means the communities of Abbotsford and Mission are on the verge of giving a private company control of a major portion of their joint water system for a period of decades. That is privatization of water treatment.

What will it mean if a P3 is chosen for Stave Lake? It means that communities will contract with a private water company not only for the normal design and construction, but also for the long-term private financing, private operation and private maintenance of the new treatment plant, as well as transmission systems and a reservoir.

For decades into the future, local ratepayers will be paying the extra costs of expensive private financing and will have to rely on lawyers and administrators to enforce clauses of a commercial contract if there are ever water quality problems or other operational issues.

The consultant’s business case finds that public sector operation of the Stave Lake facilities would be $1 million cheaper each year than private operation. Yet it omits the option of “design/build” construction, even though “design/build” (with public financing and public operation) is the most standard procurement method for large infrastructure projects in Canada.

We strongly urge Mission and Abbotsford’s mayors and councils to think long and hard before entering into a multi-decade contract for private operation of drinking water treatment.

Water is such an important resource – it must be operated publicly. Residents must have the ability to have a full and open public debate before councils make any decisions.

Let’s talk about what privatization of water means to communities. Are the mayor and councils adverse to hearing what the public has to say?

Barry O’Neill

CUPE BC president