Letter:The ‘publicization’ of water

Re: Letter from Barry O’Neill, CUPE BC president; P3 water project:

It is rare that a union will agree with management on seemingly anything these days, and if Mr. O’Neill wishes to dispel that “misconception” of mine, I would be pleased to see a list of agreements between CUPE BC and any entity with which it has an interest through the collective bargaining process.

The councils (Abbotsford and Mission) have planned what their senior administrative experts feel is the most cost effective way to address drinking water treatment. This may well be premised on the history of public sector costs on anything from abbreviated work hours to zoo management.  In other words, invariably – or most of the time – public sector costs in getting anything done will be higher than private sector costs.

With the costs involved in designing, building, financing and operating a water treatment and supply system, it goes without saying that the term of the contract will be comparable to the life expectancy of the proposed system and the period of amortization of the costs of that system. This is not a contract that would be entertained by the private sector company seeking to design and build and operate the proposed system over an annual, biannual, triennial or any other short-term period.

Mr. O’Neill is, like many other union officials, playing fast and loose with the English language when he says that this “is privatization of water treatment.” No, it is a long-term contract that will have termination clauses built into it, should either party feel that the stage in which there irreconcilable concerns, can be addressed without seeking legal recourse.

Yes, communities will contract with a private water company, as water is not a “public entity.” There are sources of water that are held in private ownership. If such was not the case, then every ounce of water in the province would be Crown property.

And, looking back at the history of the provision of water in many communities, it has been – to a large extent – undertaken by private companies as fledgling communities did not have the tax base in order to pay for the provision of such a service. So, what we have had over the years has been the “publicization” of water supply and treatment at a cost higher than politicians and council administrations have realized and have been comfortable with, politically.

Whether “local ratepayers will be paying the extra costs of private financing” is a point that Mr. O’Neill has not presented any supportive evidence to back up.

Water is an important resource, but the only one that I know that is free is air. I disagree with his premise that it must be operated publicly.  There is an underlying principle here of provision of service.

If we take the principle of public ownership of all resources critical to our life, then what about air, energy, forestry, mineral extraction, education – the list could be endless.

And while Mr. O’Neill pumps the “let’s talk about what privatization of water means to communities,” let’s also talk about stacking public meetings. I began my journalism career in 1972 and I have seen and reported on way too many “public consultation” forums, meetings, etc. that have been stacked by “self-interested” parties, who know how to skewer the consultative process’ outcomes.

As I taught the late Eric Vanderham of CV Marketing research, representative sampling in any geographically-defined area is the most accurate way of measuring public opinion on any topic.

No, Mr. O’Neill, the mayors and councils are not adverse to hearing what the public has to say because the public that attends consultative processes like you would like to see, are the “public” that are interested in putting forward their own interests that may not be totally reflective of the entire “public.”


G.E. MacDonell