As Winnipeg city councillors prepare to vote this week on a motion to create a new utility that would operate Winnipeg's water and sewer services, opponents of the idea are rallying forces.
The motion calls for a private-public partnership that would create a not-for-profit company with a board of directors appointed by the city. Politicians in favour of the proposal are accusing those against it of spreading misinformation and outright lies.
'No municipality in Manitoba can even privatize water. It's actually against the law.' —Coun. Gord Steeves
But the Winnipeg's Citizens Coalition is cautioning the public that the city is about to make a mistake by stepping into the realm of privatizing public utilities.
"City council will vote on the mayor's proposal to seek out a private partner to manage Winnipeg's water supply. History has shown that when public services are put into private hands quality deteriorates, taxes increase, and the safety of citizens is jeopardized," the coalition has stated.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Council of Canadians are also warning about the dangers of privatization. A flyer recently distributed by one of the groups states, in bold print, that the privatization decision would result in massive sprawl into agricultural land, that a handful of corporate land speculators will benefit, and that the city will lose control over its water.
Coun. Gord Steeves, who supports the motion for the new utility, calls those messages disappointing and misleading.
"No municipality in Manitoba can even privatize water. It's actually against the law," he said. "The motion has gone to specific lengths to say that there is no intent to privatize water and the utility would remain 100 per cent city-owned."
If the motion is passed, the city department now known as "Water and Waste" would be transferred to the utility, which would be overseen by the board but continue to be fully owned by the City of Winnipeg.
There are about 900 employees in this department, most of them members of CUPE 500. The city would sign a "management agreement" with the utility's board, outlining the expectations for the company and setting up the management structure.
The private management of the utility, however, would help with the growing infrastructure costs facing the city. The utility would be self-sustaining, supported by ratepayers and any other revenue it is able to create through business ventures.
Water utility prices would be set by the province's public utilities board, which currently sets prices for hydro, public insurance and all water and waste utilities outside of the city. Currently, city council sets the prices for water and waste in the city.
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said there is a lack of clarity about the proposed deal. She believes more time is needed to sift through the details and intends to table a motion on Wednesday to delay the motion.