On March 25th, Saint John Common Council voted to approve the city manager’s recommendation to proceed with a private-public partnership (P3) funding model for the city’s proposed water treatment plant and other planned infrastructure improvements.
Common Causes Saint John, a chapter of a nation-wide assembly of social movements dedicated to defending democracy, the environment, and human rights, feels that engaging in a public-private partnership for the provision of municipal water is an unnecessarily risky choice.
Common Causes Saint John feels that the council and city staff have restricted consultation process and they say that they have not investigated the risks but instead have “sought and paid for advice from foremost advocates of P3s and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a prominent member of the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships.”
In response to questions and objections raised by Common Causes Saint John about the potential P3 deal, some councilors responded with statements from P3 Canada and Veolia, the world’s biggest private water company.
Common Causes Saint John and the Council of Canadians warned Saint John Common Council on March 11th in a presentation about a biased and superficial understanding promoted by the P3 lobby. They reminded council that special interest groups promote models that privilege the expenditure of public tax dollars on the staples of P3 projects: consultants, inordinate legal fees, publicity campaigns to coerce public acceptance of P3s, complicated financial instruments such as the Special Purpose Vehicle, and the required private profit-generating concession period.
Before the vote on March 25th, Common Causes Saint John delivered a petition with 1075 signatures to the city’s common clerk. The petition urged common council “not to rush into a bad P3 contract that we will regret for the next 20 to 30 years,” and are united in their opposition to “any deal that would give private interests control of our public water.” The petition was not mentioned by any of the councilors at the meeting.
Common Causes Saint John prefers the public funding of public infrastructure. “By underfunding infrastructure for decades, the federal government has put Canadian municipalities in a precarious situation. And the requirement to pursue a P3 model for larger projects has imposed an artificial, inefficient barrier to municipalities wishing to access tax-dollar funded infrastructure improvements that avoid the wasted expenses associated with P3s listed above. We want the Government of Canada to enact a 20-year plan that will require federal investment of $39 billion in a National Public Water and Wastewater Fund, with no P3 condition,” states a media release by Common Causes Saint John.
The United Nations passed a resolution recognizing access to water and sanitation as a human right in 2010. Common Causes Saint John urges common council to recognize this human right.