Home / Op-Ed / Debates / The Great Debates – P3 referendum

The Great Debates – P3 referendum

Participants: Sonia Stanger [PRO] and Sean Wilson [CONTRA]


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Vote YES/ image: Haley Klassen
Vote YES/ image: Haley Klassen

PRO

Sonia Stanger – Contributor

On Sep 25, the citizens of Regina will head to the polls to decide whether they want to keep public control of a new wastewater treatment plant. I would encourage each and every student at the University of Regina to vote Yes.

In February, city council voted to proceed with a P3 – that is, public-private partnership – model, wherein a private corporation would finance, design, build, operate and maintain the plant. A group of concerned citizens collected over 24,000 Regina resident signatures for a petition to hold a referendum on this issue, however the city did their darnedest to suppress public engagement and silence citizens’ voices.

But why are these citizens so concerned in the first place?

People are concerned because a P3 model would mean putting the control of our water, a human right and a public resource, into the hands of a private corporation. Despite what proponents of the privatization option say, this issue is indeed about water. The effluent, or treated product, of Regina’s wastewater treatment plant goes back into our watershed and ends up as drinking water in other communities. The plant is a part of the water cycle, and it is critical that sufficient monitoring be done to ensure that its environmental impacts are kept to a minimum.

People are concerned because the bottom line is that a private company’s primary concern must always be the maximization of shareholder profits. This means that profits come before infrastructure, employees, and best practices on a list of priorities. What’s more, we do not know how much taxpayers will be forced to pay to ensure that this private company is seeing profit from the running of the plant.

People are concerned because the City’s proposed route would lock us into a secret 30-year deal with the private partner, the details of which have been blacked out. The City states that the P3 is a cheaper option, but the fact remains that Regina’s citizens have no way of knowing how much a P3 will end up costing taxpayers. In fact, an independent analysis done by economist Hugh MacKenzie states that the traditional Design, Bid, Build method, which would keep the plant in public hands, will cost between $37.4 million – $77.2 million less than going the P3 route.

People are also concerned because, although the City claims to have made the decision to go with a P3 with financial responsibility in mind, they have been shamefully financially irresponsible. The vote No campaign has been funded by the City with over $340,000 of taxpayers’ money – three times what the City is spending to inform citizens about how and where to vote.

While I am not directly associated with the Regina Water Watch campaign, I have watched the groundswell of support with interest. The people who have engaged me on this issue are not “union bosses.” They are concerned citizens, from university students to grandparents, who are passionate about Regina’s right to democratically control its own future.

Polls are open across the city from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sep 25. I encourage you to vote Yes to keep water public and to keep taxpayer dollars from padding private pockets.

Vote NO/ image: Haley Klassen
Vote NO/ image: Haley Klassen

CONTRA

Sean Wilson – Contributor

In less than two weeks, Regina’s residents will go to the polls to decide how to finance the new wastewater treatment plant. At this point in the game, I’m sure I don’t need to go over the history of the wastewater treatment plant and the subject of the discussion. Instead, I am going to outline what is at stake and why you should vote No on Sep. 25.

First and foremost, every claim that the city has made about the consequence of the Yes side winning is absolutely true. $58 million dollars from the federal government? Gone. Utility rate hikes over the next four years? You bet. Regardless of how CUPE and its shell group known as Regina Water Watch tries to downplay this, these are the stone cold facts.

The most obvious one is that this does not deal with drinking water, but wastewater. When this fact came to light, they curiously played down the ad featuring a little girl drinking a glass of water and tried to move their argument in line with the actual debate over wastewater. Another is what I view as being the main complaints that CUPE has against the city’s claims. For example, the claim that the $58 million will only cover the interest payments: if the plant is being built anyway, why would we turn down money to pay for it, even if it only covers interest fees. Money doesn’t grow on trees and, without a P3, this project will be financed through a deficit (which includes interest payments). They also seem to accept the fact that voting Yes will bring about utility hikes, but something I have been hearing people saying is that they are afraid that the private company operating the treatment plant will hike their utility rates to increase profits. This is simply utter and complete garbage, as the plant will remain in control of the city and it will be the city that decides how the rates are increased or lowered. Let’s be very clear, water will always be public. Anyone who tells you anything other than that is lying to you.

It seems the common theme with CUPE and its Water Watch campaign is deception. They bounce from one lie to another, using what they can until they are discovered and need to think up something new. The question this brings about is why would a Union that is supposed to represent workers be willing to flat out lie to them so easily? It is because CUPE does not care about its workers, but about politics. Even though the P3 will create many new well-paying jobs, it’s of no concern to them if those workers are not paying union dues. The P3 model has been used around the world for literally thousands of projects and has a very good track record. CUPE can point to a few examples where it went wrong, the city can point to thousands where it worked just fine. The fact of the matter is that given human error both models can fail, but the P3 model has the best track record with the most positive spin-off effects.

The thing that we should be worried about as residents of Regina is that there is a union claiming to represent it’s workers going out of its way to run a campaign of deception. Significant portions of CUPE’s workforce will be voting no on September 25th, but they are still seeing their money being used in this campaign against their will. This is an organization that cares more about its level of political influence than for what is best for the city and its people. The vote is coming up soon, and when you vote, be careful to remember what’s at stake.

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12 comments

  1. sean wilson is a blithering idiot

  2. what crap get the facts. Its shameless how the mayor and its henchmen of cit councillars are flat out trying to deceive the Regina public

  3. I’m never terribly convinced when someone trots out the CUPE bogeyman. Unions do a huge amount of good for the public, and while it can’t be denied that they take political stances on issues, that doesn’t matter in the least. Everything is political. They exist to take political stances.

    Regina Water Watch is a coalition of truly concerned citizens that happens to receive donations from CUPE. If CUPE chooses to support them, that’s CUPE’s business and if the workers in the union don’t like it, they can change their representation in the next election. If the workers represented by them don’t agree, let them speak for themselves. Don’t put words in their mouth just because you don’t agree with CUPE.

    As for the point that many CUPE members will vote no but their money is being used against their will to fund the “yes” campaign – while I disagree that it’s an issue I can see why someone might debate against that. At least be fair in your criticism and call out the City of Regina for spending taxpayer money to entirely fund the no campaign. I would say that’s a huge conflict of interest when the City is overseeing the referendum. It’s astounding how it seems that no one involved in the campaign can see the ethical implications of the carious actions the city has taken.

  4. “and while it can’t be denied that they take political stances on issues, that doesn’t matter in the least.”

    Really? It doesn’t matter to you at all that a national group with 700,000 members all of whom automatically give part of their salary to the union, then takes that money and uses it to influence municipal affairs in cities with populations a fraction of that size?

    Would it bother you if the Conservatives took a stand on some small local issue and heavily funded one side of it? Oh right, they’re not allowed to do that, and if CUPE wants to act like a political party instead of an advocate for workers, they shouldn’t be allowed to either.

  5. Would you like to try that incoherent rant over again, maybe in English this time?

  6. The Conservative Party that controls the Federal government is not a union. And the whole “take this P3 Funding from the Federal Government or you won’t get any money at all” is the equivalent of the Conservative Party getting involved in municipal affairs. Telling a municipality it only gets money needed for critical infrastructure if it uses one model is political involvement.

    You’re right that “it doesn’t matter in the least” is an offhand comment, but I’m not going to pretend that the Conservative Party isn’t trying to influence this for their own political ends.

  7. The tolerant left strikes again!

  8. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Wilson spends the majority of his section on the topic of CUPE, yet only a few sentences actually covering the topic of the referendum, P3s vs. Design, Bid, Build. Internet memes and a persecution complex in the comment section doesn’t help either. Bravo Sonia on bringing figures and structured argument to the debate.

  9. 1.Can you tell me exactly what those political ends are? What on earth could the Conservative government (or the City for that matter) have to gain by pushing P3s (other than more money in the budget for other things)? Corporations are legally not allowed to make political contributions federally, and (unlike unions) they have essentially no ability to influence the way their members vote.
    2.Public sector unions are, by their very nature, constantly at odds with taxpayers. Their interests directly conflict. CUPE’s mandate is to get the best possible deal for their members, but since these people are public employees “the best possible deal” for them can never be “the best possible deal” for the citizens that pay their salaries. CUPE only advocates for a select group of people. This is the definition of special interest. For CUPE to claim they’ve suddenly become some sort of taxpayer advocacy group is not only ridiculously inaccurate, it’s insulting to Canadians and Reginans.

  10. 1. The political ends of pushing P3s are that they fit an ideology deemed appropriate by the government and they are a way to increase corporate profits. You suggest that this method saves money, but there is evidence that it does not, and there are issues of accountability if things go wrong. (See Hamilton’s problems: http://regina.ctvnews.ca/wastewater-plants-and-p3s-a-cautionary-tale-1.1167668 ) Clearly, if a corporation wants to build and operate the wastewater treatment plant, they expect to be making money from it. And not just a little bit of money, I’d wager, if the risks associated with building and operating the plant are as great as the city has been leading us to believe. Companies are not stupid – they aren’t going to enter into a contract where the risk far outweighs the potential rewards.

    Which is where point 2 comes in. Public sector unions are made up of members that pay taxes to their governments. The mythical “taxpayer” who always wants to cut expenditures to the bone does not exist in practice because Canadian taxpayers do not constitute a massive, unified body of collective thought. I would bet most CUPE members pays taxes, for example. CUPE’s mandate is to get the best possible deal for their members, yes, but when people are paid better, they pay higher taxes, they buy more things, and generally have a better quality of life. If we are looking to theoretically get the best “bang for the taxpayer buck” then it would make sense to create secure, unionized, high-paying jobs. I would be more than happy to pay a little more to ensure that the people handling wastewater are well-paid and have a decent living. Yes, citizens pay their salaries, but they provide essential services for citizens and instead of demonizing them I would say we should be grateful.

    If you are worried about CUPE’s interests never being the best possible deal for taxpayers, I would also say that the interests of corporations directly conflict with the goal of government in keeping costs minimal. There is a profit there at the expense of “taxpayers”. In any case, there’s no “perfect” scenario for how this is going to be built. I am glad people are thinking and discussing the options though.

  11. At least he could make his point without descending to insults and rude comments.

  12. People, I know that this is a tense issue with polarizing opinions. However, that doesn’t mean you should descend to rude, insulting comments just because someone’s position is different from your own. If you feel someone’s view needs factual correction, then do so, don’t say things like “blistering idiot.” Maybe this is why people don’t vote or take part in elections, maybe they’re fed up with the partisanship on both left and right. It just makes me angry how rude you partisans are.