Public’s pressure sinks proposal to privatize water system


THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MAPLETON LEFT $20M ON THE TABLE. It wasn’t enough to convince them to let a private company build and run their water supply system. They have decided to keep it public.

The decision puts a huge dent in federal government infrastructure plans. The Trudeau government plan relies on private companies to partner with government to finance and build needed infrastructure. The Liberals even created the Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to grease the skids. The Mapleton project was supposed to be proof of concept. That's not how it turned out.

Union sides with citizens

CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) is one of the strongest opponents of the Liberal infrastructure plans. They worked closely with many Mapleton citizens to convince their local government to reject the P3 (Private-Public Partnership) proposal.

The Township of Mapleton council thought going private would help. Years of appeals to the feds and the province had brought nothing. In late 2018 the council issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) hopefully to attract private sector corporations to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a new water and wastewater facility in the municipality.

Mapleton hired consultants to evaluate the proposals they received. The proposal from the CIB came with a $20 million sweetener to subsidize the private partner’s higher borrowing costs. The consultants concluded that a partnership with the CIB was best.

The township council was going to announce it’s choice in March. Covid-19 forced them to postpone.

In the meantime, rising community awareness and debate of the P3 plan brought more media scrutiny and more questions from residents. The council had kept all discussions about the proposal behind closed doors.

In late July the Mapleton township council terminated the RFP process. The P3 proposal was dead in the water.

Private too risky

“If we go with this group, it’s probably going to be far more trouble than if we’re on our own,” councillor Denis Craven said to council. “I’m a little concerned we might be over committing ourselves if we go this project.”

Several councillors said they felt there was too much risk involved in having a private company run their water and wastewater system. The township is now considering how best to move forward with the project on its own.

The Mapleton decision is not unique. The township joins other communities in Canada and around the world in deciding to keep their water public, including Port Hardy and White Rock in British Columbia; Banff, Okotoks and Taber, in Alberta; Berlin, Germany and Paris, France.

The rejection of the CIB and it’s P3 plan for Mapleton increases concerns about sticking with the Liberal infrastructure approach. “It’s time to scrap the Canada Infrastructure Bank,” says CUPE “and provide funding and low-cost loans directly to municipalities to help them build and own the infrastructure they need.”

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