Article: Alexandra Mortensen – Contributor
On Sept. 25, the City of Regina is holding a referendum on the use of a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model for a much needed sewage treatment plant. The city council voted unanimously in favour of moving forward with a P3; however, a petition requesting a referendum on the question was circulated and accepted. We now face a referendum that will not only cost taxpayers additional money, but will also greatly delay an important project.
What I find most concerning about this issue is the amount of misleading information and rhetoric surrounding it. First and foremost, the use of the word “water.” Regina Water Watch, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) backed group that circulated the petition, has deliberately confused sewage with water. Their logo is a pristine water droplet and their messaging refers often to water, rarely to waste water, and almost never to sewage.
The CUPE has taken an active stance by organizing and campaigning through Regina Water Watch. For example, they are running full-page ads featuring a young girl holding a glass of water. This is intentionally deceiving as the upcoming referendum has nothing to do with drinking water, but rather what is flushed down our toilets.
Their messaging also frequently refers to the P3 model as privatization. A public private partnership is not privatization. Privatization refers to a public entity that is sold to a private company. A project built under a public private partnership utilizes the private sector to design, build, and sometimes maintain a public service that remains under public ownership and direction. The City will continue to own the waste water treatment plant, will still set rates and standards, and has promised that all of the public employees employed at the current plant will keep their jobs.
Further, popular rhetoric insists that “the Conservatives are forcing the P3.” In actuality, the federal government is offering grants to municipalities for projects that are economically feasible and would benefit from private expertise. The City of Regina is not being “forced” into a P3 by the federal government. Like any other program, municipal governments may apply and either receive or be denied funding based on the merits of the project. The federal government is under no obligation to finance municipal projects.
There are many benefits to P3s. They have a proven track record of delivering projects on time and on budget, which is something that traditionally procured projects have a terrible record of achieving. P3s also deliver savings over the lifetime of the asset by leveraging private sector expertise in maintenance and management. By transferring some of the risks of building major capital projects, the City of Regina is being proactive in managing their capital expenditures.
Unfortunately, CUPE and self-interested lobby groups have poisoned the atmosphere of fair discussion, compromising a project for purely political purposes. Not only should Regina move forward with a P3 for the sewage treatment facility, but P3s should be considered as a possible tool for infrastructure spending on other projects in the future.