Union opposes P3 proposal for wastewater plant
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013 6:48PM CST Last Updated Wednesday, February 13, 2013 7:20PM CST
Regina’s executive committee has voted in favour of entering a public-private partnership to fund upgrades to the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant.
But while councillors unanimously approved the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting, the union that represents about 1,300 city workers raised concerns about the plan.
Under the proposed 30-year agreement, a private firm would design, build, finance, operate and maintain the plant.
Tim Anderson, president of CUPE Local 21, says the union’s research shows other cities have ended up paying more interest under a P3 model.
He says the public sector can borrow money at a much lower interest rate than private firms.
“The experience in many other municipalities is that P3s cost more. They do not transfer risk to the private sector; they do not deliver capital projects on time and on budget, and they undermine democratic oversight and accountability,” Anderson told councillors.
“Water and wastewater is integral to our lives and the public overwhelmingly wants water services to be delivered publicly.”
However, Regina Mayor Michael Fougere noted that the city must adopt a P3 approach to be eligible for up to $58.7 million in federal infrastructure funding.
He said it would be “irresponsible” not to pursue that grant money for the project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $224.3 million.
“I’m satisfied that on balance, this is the best way to go,” Fougere told reporters.
“This is the only way that we will receive any financial assistance from the federal government.”
CUPE also raised concerns at the meeting about the rights of unionized staff at the plant and the conditions they could be working in.
“We were shocked to learn that the city plans to transfer the operation of the existing wastewater treatment plant to the private company and change the employment relationship,” Anderson said.
“There has not been proper consultation with our union on the privatization of their jobs.”
But Fougere says the union was informed last year that the city was considering the proposal. He added that the jobs of unionized workers at the plant would remain secure if the plan moves ahead.
“They’re not losing their jobs,” the mayor said. “They’ll be working with the company, but they’ll be under the same collective agreement.”
Fougere says the aging plant must be upgraded to meet stringent new provincial and federal regulations. Construction is slated to begin in 2014 and is expected to wrap up by the end of 2016.
City council will consider the proposal at its next meeting on Feb. 25.