There is no question that upgrades to sewer treatment in the CVRD are necessary. I know that a hefty bill is coming, but the health of Baynes Sound and environmental sustainability are very important, and we should not nickel and dime our ecological future.
I do, however, have serious questions about whether our tax dollars should pay the profits of a private corporation for the next 30 years (Question 2 in next week’s referendum). This proposal heads in the opposite direction of many municipalities around the world that have discovered through hard experience that Public Private Partnership (P3) schemes are more expensive and difficult to control than keeping projects in-house. For instance, 67 per cent of England’s municipalities are re-municipalizing services that had previously been contracted out, and notably, Paris has done the same with its water services. Closer to home, the District of Sooke ended their contract with EPCOR after finding residents would save hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking back their utility in-house as a completely public service.
Initial plans for the South Sewer Project did not involve a private partner, which would have allowed the CVRD to borrow money from the Municipal Financing Authority (MFA) at a much lower interest rate than a private sector operator. The P3 proposal means this option is no longer available. Further, the CVRD needs to explain to us why they are approaching the federal government for P3 funding rather than from the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund that does not require P3 partnerships.
The history of P3 partnerships is full of examples where cost over-runs, inadequate monitoring and testing, poor quality and high service fees end up being the responsibility of the public partner to clean up or manage. I strongly urge us to not lock ourselves into that kind of relationship for the next 30 years. Rather, let’s create a legacy of an affordable, democratically accountable wastewater system. I plan to vote no to a Public-Private Partnership for the South Sewer Project on June 18, and urge my neighbours to do the same.
Alice de Wolff,