One interesting result from Saturday’s municipal elections was Abbotsford voters’ indisputable rejection of water supply privatization. New mayor Bruce Banman, an opponent of water delivery through a proposed P3, believes the single most important message was that citizens wanted,
“a more open, transparent government and more public involvement in important issues.”
Public private partnerships universally reduce transparency, public involvement and accountability. In BC, the Liberal government shields significant projects – hospitals, bridges, highways, etc. – from complete disclosure because providing information to the public would “undermine the private company’s competitive position.”
Given the BC Liberal track record, we can assume that complete transparency would reveal benefits for political insiders and hidden costs such as the secret “shadow tolls” on the highway to Whistler.
Public private partnerships serve the aims of ruling politicians and their financial supporters, not the interests of the public. Just as home ownership is better than renting over the long term, public ownership of fundamental utilities is the lowest cost option. That Canadians believe ownership is preferred to renting forever is demonstrated by a recent poll:
“…the quarterly RBC poll shows that nearly 80% of Canadian homeowners 54 and younger expect to be mortgage-free by the age of 65, while younger Canadians – those under 34 – have the most aggressive views on when they will be mortgage-free. More than one-quarter believe they will have paid off their homes by the age of 45 and 12% believe they will have done so by the age of 35.”
Outgoing Abbotsford mayor George Peary said,
“Certainly I was the champion of the P3 water project, and it went down dramatically. It was worse than I thought it would be quite frankly. It was repudiated big time by the public…”
Proponents of the P3 were selling it as a lower cost solution because the federal government was prepared to contribute $65.7 million to the project.
Citizens apparently saw through the idiocy of a plan whereby taxpayers subsidize a private profit-making company to give it advantage over a non-profit public enterprise. Also, a plan that had Abbotsford taxpayers spending hundreds of thousands to promote the P3 as preferred but relied on false and incomplete claims, disclosed no evidence of P3 advantages and ignored case histories around the world that demonstrate privatized water results in significantly higher user cost.
The only real argument that proponents of the P3 could mount came from willingness of the Government of Canada to contribute up to $65.7 million towards the Stave Lake Water Project. However, the purposes of the federal grant were claimed to be:
- “to support important infrastructure projects that meet the needs of Canadian communities like Abbotsford,”
- “…deliver a long-term solution for the City’s water supply…”
- “… produce economic benefits and deliver greater value for taxpayers.”
- “…the federal government is providing critical support for future economic prosperity,”
Since all of those reasons remain valid, no doubt Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Member of Parliament for Abbotsford, will ensure the $65.7 million remains available to the City of Abbotsford.
To do otherwise would lead citizens to conclude that the P3 Canada Fund is merely a multi-billion dollar gift from taxpayers to “free enterprise” business owners who might also be financial supporters of the Harper Government.