Maude Barlow has a bleak prediction.
“Wastewater’s first; water services next,” the Council of Canadians national chairperson said Wednesday.
Barlow believes letting a private company play any role in Regina’s new wastewater treatment plant is a slippery slope, one she believes could lead to the outright privatization of the city’s water.
“If Regina goes ahead to privatize its water, I promise you in five years you’re going to be having a debate about how to undo this,” she explained.
Barlow is one of three speakers at an event Wednesday night at the University of Regina. They will point out the downfalls of public involvement in the project in advance of the upcoming referendum on September 25.
“When it’s a private company, they have to make a profit… and there are only so many ways you can do this,” she said. “You have to raise water rates higher than the public rates… our you have to cut corners somewhere and you have to lay off the work force.”
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Mayor Michael Fougere emphasizes the city will set the utility rates and the P3 only deals with wastewater, not drinking water.
Retired Environment Canada research scientist Marley Waiser, however, explains eventually it is one and the same. She says at certain times of the year Wascana Creek is made up of almost 100 per cent treated sewage affluent.
“The wastewater can’t be separated from the stream flow, there’s just no way you can say that,” she explained.
Barlow worries how well a private company will monitor the water quality.
“Who knows how safe this is?” she asked. “I’ve heard horror stories from around the world where private companies have been able to cut corners.”
Fougere says the city will not allow that to happen because it will be keeping a close eye on what is happening. The private company will have standards to meet when it comes to the quality of the water and maintenance of the facility. If it does not meet those standards, the company will be penalized.
“They’re very complex contracts that depict the responsibilities of both the owner – the city – and the company that is working on our behalf,” Fougere explained. “They know their obligations and they know they have to perform well, it’s all written out in the contract.”
So far 10 private companies have expressed interest in the project.