Thursday, February 05, 2009

In the past few weeks there has been debate about a new contracting out scheme for Winnipeg's water supply. Molly, anti-statist that she is- has her own opinion on this, and that opinion is not in favour of such a thing. The present city administration's plans are hardly designed to reduce the role of government in the lives of citizens. What they are designed to do is offer an opportunity for "friends of friends" to profit by a presently public utility. This is typical of conservative ideologues the world over. The math goes basically like this:

*Government operations are "inefficient" (true).
*So, lets hire/contract with somebody from the private sector (rather than
considering the coop model).
* Such private contractors "will" be more efficient and therefore reduce
the cost of the service (Sometimes true).
*Such savings will compensate for the fact that the profit of the private contractor will now be paid out of the public pocket. is not a foregone conclusion that all private
business is automatically more efficient than a public entity. Even so,
the cost of providing profit to the friends of the politicians can, and usually does, outweigh the so-called savings from privatization. The record of such things across the world hardly inspires confidence in the ideological
pronouncements of the proponents of such things. Then there is the "multiplier effect". If, by some turn of good fortune, the private contractors do indeed provide a service at a cost lower than that of the fees they extract from the public purse it is hardly ever (perhaps never)
due to some magical "efficiency" that they possess. It is pretty well always due to their paying their workers less. When you calculate the multiplier effect of this loss in terms of local resources (the old "one dollar spent equals three dollars generated") then the loss to a community would be pretty well guaranteed to be greater than the gain in most
situations. But at least some people benefit by such deals ie the friends (traceable and otherwise) of the politicians who set up such things.

Such is the situation with Winnipeg's water supply.
Here's an article from the Canadian Union of Public
Employees (
CUPE) about what is happening here and the opposition to it.


Is Winnipeg’s Water being
Over 150 people attended a presentation on Friday night, to learn more about recent City Council decisions that could lead to privatization of city water treatment.

In November, the Mayor and eight Councilors voted “to explore” setting up “a new arm’s length business model to operate city owned utilities.” They also approved using a business (a public private partnership) method to “design, construct, finance and operate” water and waste control centres.

Tony Clarke of the Polaris Institute and co-author of Blue Gold (with Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians) spoke about situations around the world where water corporations have taken over water treatment and distribution systems, to disastrous effect. “It’s time for citizens to become custodians of their water – if we don’t we are going to be facing a huge water crisis in the future.”

Lynne Fernandez of the Canadian Centre of Policy
Alternatives (Manitoba) provided background on the City Council decisions and what these could mean for Winnipeggers. She noted that though the Council is saying it is only exploring different delivery options, they have already changed to a more business-like approach for dealing with public water needs.

In the audience was a cross section of the public. Questions focused on how P3s could function and what citizens could do to stop the slide towards privatization.

A coalition of community, student, faith, environment and union groups are criticizing the City’s actions. They are calling on City Council to consult the public on such serious issues and to be more transparent with all P3 projects the city is planning for public infrastructure. The event was sponsored by: CUPE Manitoba, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Federation of Students, Manitoba EcoNetwork, Canadian Centre for Policy
, Winnipeg Citizens’ Coalition, Council of Canadians, Winnipeg
Labour Council and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 500.

Note for more
information on the Local’s Positively Public campaign.

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