City staff released a recommendation last week that Regina should go with a Public Private Partnership for the upgrade to our waste water treatment plant. Greg reported on that here.
So what do you think? Should I bother covering this story at all? Because I’m pretty sure I can tell you how things are going to turn out right now. A bunch of people will show up to council and object to using a P3 for the treatment of waste water. Council will object to the objections, saying, “What would you have us do? If we want to apply for funding from the federal government, we have to go with a P3. It would be fiscally irresponsible to do anything else.” Then they’ll make some comment about the public being misinformed and in the end there will be a majority vote in favour of the P3 funding plan.
I’m inclined to call this a done deal, if that’s okay with you.
All I’m hoping is city staff have actually done their due diligence with this P3 plan — and I’m sure council will say that they have — because if the stadium P3 goes south, we could be stuck with a half-finished stadium but the Riders already have a stadium so they won’t even miss a game. But if our waste water treatment plant doesn’t work out as planned, people downstream from us could wind up drinking our poop. And I suspect they might sue over that.
But why am I even pondering the possibility of this P3 not working out? Well, I attended the National Infrastructure Summit that the city of Regina put on last year and at it I asked Paul Moist, president of CUPE Canada, about the fact that the city was considering a P3 for our waste water treatment plant, and here’s what he said…
Moist also participated in a panel discussion on P3s during the summit and in response to a question about the need for due diligence in negotiating P3 agreements, he made reference to the Hamilton case.
In a CUPE-published report on P3s by University of Manitoba economics professor, John Loxley, there is even more detail on that Hamilton-Wentworth waste water treatment plant. In a section on how P3s can impact workers, Loxley writes,
Often, when the private sector claims to be more efficient than the public sector, this really means cutting labour costs by laying off workers, using non-unionized instead of unionized labour, cutting wages, pensions and other benefits, or reducing hours or conditions of work. This is particularly common in service delivery P3s, where the private partner is handed a budget or part of a budget to deliver services previously delivered by the public sector in return for a share in any savings it can generate.
In the case of the Hamilton-Wentworth water and sewage system, the private corporation laid off half the staff, reducing the operating budget by close to 40 per cent. The result was a catastrophic reduction in service quality.
And later, in a section on how P3s affect communities,
The workforce cuts in the Hamilton-Wentworth water and sewage project led to untreated sewage polluting Hamilton harbour. The P3 contract was so poorly put together that the regional government ended up paying the cleanup costs.
Later still, Loxley writes,
P3s also severely restrict democratic accountability by tying the hands of future municipal governments, as far ahead as 30 years or more. Even more troublesome, promoters of P3s in Canada have on occasion made contributions to the political campaigns of sympathetic councillors, as in the case of the Hamilton-Wentworth water and sewage system and, apparently, the Lansdowne Park development in Ottawa. Though not illegal, such contributions are highly questionable.
So, P3s and waste water… sounds like they can be a combination fraught with complications. Be curious to see what the discussion around this ends up being like. Guess I’ll write about it after all.
And in case you’re interested, I recorded all of Paul Moist’s introductory remarks at the P3 panel at the 2012 NIS. I’ll include them below.