Friday, October 08, 2010


The following news item from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is about a recent poll that says that 80% of Winnipegers think that the secret deal with Veolia for "consulting services" in relation to upgrades to Winnipeg's sewer system should be made public.

There are a huge amount of questions that flow from this issue. The first that comes to my mind is "why" present city employees are not capable of laying out plans for such upgrades. They may or may not be capable, but it has never been made plain why such plans could not be done on the present city payroll. Either our present city employees are capable or they are not, especially the more highly paid managers amongst them. Who knows, and if they are not we will never know why.

The second question comes from an observation. The secrecy of the contract with Veolia is merely one more outrageous example of a persistent culture of secrecy surrounding City Hall and its relations to consultants. Our present Mayor Sam Katz may be a particularly arrogant defender of this culture, but he is hardly unique. He can also hardly be suspected of benefiting personally from this deal. Katz is the dinky little Mayor of a dinky little city in the middle of nowhere, and his personal wheelings and dealings are several levels of magnitude below those of an international company such as Veolia. It would take some serious creative accounting for Sam to be bribed on this matter. The Mayor's unyielding defense of this rather unique form of civic contracting is more related to his desire to preserve secrecy in other matters than from anything related to this particular deal.

It should also be noted that the public opposition to this secrecy on the part of the other mayoral candidate for Mayor Judy Wasylycia-Leiss lacks substance. Like most political promises it lacks enforceability ie a written commitment to either carry through with exposing the deal or cancelling it altogether. This means a "no-escape" provision to her promise such that it cannot be reneged on "in light of new information" if she wins. Put it in writing before a notary public Judy !

Even more importantly it lacks generality. While the present contract may be particularly large, and may have options for yet another billion dollars attached to it such things are hardly unique to the Katz administration. Neither are they a particularly "right wing" invention, even though it may be argued that public defenders of traditional "morality" are generally more corrupt than their opponents. The leech-like behavior of "consultants" was as much a feature of the Mayoralty of that darling of the left Glenn Murray as it was of any right wing administration. The only difference is in the sums involved.

Let the reader note that Judy has not made any promise to have all city contracts open to public scrutiny ie available of the City of Winnipeg website. The only contract that she has more or less promised to open to public scrutiny is the Veolia one. Cough up with the rest Judy, including others that might be undertaken in an administration of your own. No generality in democracy from Judy.

The other salient fact about Judy's promise is that it lacks "enforceability". If her promise were connected with another promising to set up a process for both recall and generalized public referenda about major capital projects she would be much more believable. That, however, is something quite remote from the ideological commitments of our so-called "left" these days. In general our "left" has evolved into an elitist position of distrust of ordinary people whose only difference from the elitism of the "right" is that it has an academic brown shirt squad in the post modernists. But realistic social democratic politician hardly call on such things in "real time". Mostly they act by evasion, a more traditional and less rhetorical way of coming to power.

So...if Judy were to couple her promise to put this item into public view with a)a written guarantee, b)a similar guarantee to put any give-aways to her own friends into public view and c)a similar written guarantee that the public could block such actions and also remove the politicians who go back on such promises then I'd be inclined to vote for her.

Well pigs don't fly and Judy will do such thing. Therefore Molly will do what she has always done ie not vote. This is for the purpose of making it plain that there is another way of doing politics that is considerably different from the habit of many of merely "kicking the bastards out" whether they be right wing bastards or left wing ones. This is, of course, a long range point of view, but it is better than taking a short term view of the "lesser of two evils" and accomplishing nothing. That's what voting in this election will do.

Here's the item from CUPE. While it has to be admitted that the poll in question was a politically motivated poll this fact is both obvious and trivial. I would be utterly surprised that the number who think this contract should remain secret is less than 80%. In actual fact the 20% who said they preferred secrecy are probably people who recognized the poll for what it was and answered this way just to be difficult. Here's the story.

Winnipeg residents reject secret sewage contract—poll
Survey shows eight in ten want Veolia contract details made public

A Probe Research survey shows that 78 per cent of Winnipeg residents believe that all the details of the 30-year contract the City of Winnipeg entered into with the private contractor Veolia Canada should be made public before the October 27 municipal election.

Meanwhile, the poll—commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)—shows overall opposition to the Veolia deal is also strong as 61 per cent of Winnipeggers oppose it, with 39 per cent in support.

“Clearly Winnipeggers have serious concerns with the mayor and council’s decision to enter into a 30-year deal with a private company to maintain and operate Winnipeg’s wastewater treatment plants,” says CUPE National President Paul Moist.

“For the past two years, concerned citizens have called for the city to be open and transparent about contracting out our wastewater plants,” says Moist. “And for two years the city has ignored these calls.”

“Winnipeg voters deserve to know the scope of this deal,” he says. “They deserve to know how much this deal will cost them and their children 30 years from now. They deserve answers to these questions before they go to the polls on October 27.”

Moist says keeping water and wastewater services in public hands is a key priority for CUPE and its members. CUPE has mounted campaigns opposed to water privatization across Canada and the world. CUPE has also worked with other community organizations in opposition to Winnipeg’s decision to seek out a private partner to operate and maintain its wastewater services since 2008.

Probe Research conducted the citywide telephone survey of 601 Winnipeg residents between September 16 and September 30. The margin of error is ±4.0, 19 times out of 20. Full results of the survey can be downloaded from the electronic version of this release at

CUPE is Canada’s largest union representing more than 600,000 workers, including 26,000 in Manitoba.

For more information, contact:

Liam Martin
CUPE Communications Representative
Tel: (201) 612-0901
Heather Fraser
Senior Communications Officer, CUPE
Tel: (613) 237-1590

Read the poll by Probe Research
(271 kB)

Read the Veolia fact sheet
(34 kB)

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