EPCOR drainage proposal doesn't hold water, report says

EPCOR’s proposal to take over the city’s drainage utility just doesn’t hold water, according to a report commissioned by Edmonton labour groups.

Public interest not served by transferring drainage from city to EPCOR, report concludes

A car is stranded in a flooded part of the Whitemud in June 2016. ( Nicole Teeuwsen)

EPCOR's proposal to take over the city's drainage utility just doesn't hold water, according to a report released Monday.

The report, commissioned and paid for by the Edmonton and District Labour Council and the Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions, says the city must consider efficiency claims by EPCOR as well as how transparent and accountable EPCOR would be as owner of the drainage utility.

EPCOR has claimed it can run drainage more cost-effectively than the city and those savings will be passed onto the city in the form of increased dividends.

But the report says the city could achieve a substantial portion of the efficiencies itself.

"The city is determined to hand over Edmonton's publicly-owned drainage utility to a private enterprise for the promise of future revenues that may or may not come," said Bruce Fafard, labour council president.

"The evidence shows that, all things considered, there is no net benefit to the citizens of Edmonton."

Transparency questions

The report also raised questions about the transparency and accountability of EPCOR if it took over drainage from the city.
Bruce Fafard says the transfer of the drainage utility is in EPCOR's interests, not the city's. (Nola Keeler/CCBC)

It says the city would lose direct oversight of the drainage utility and that could affect service to Edmontonians.

"Furthermore, the public clearly will have less access to information on the operation of their utility, since shareholder meetings between the city and EPCOR are not public and EPCOR is exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act," reads the report.

EPCOR spokesperson Tim LeRiche said the company has provided the city with a letter of intent that addresses those issues and it's available on the city's website.

"We are prepared to meet any requirements of city council in regards to transparency and accountability," he said.

Lanny Chudyk, president of Civic Service Union 52, which represents about 700 EPCOR workers, says there's nothing legally that would require EPCOR to do so.

"While they say they will — though I'm sure they might in some instances — in other instances, maybe not so easily done."

Public still ends up paying

Chudyk said there also appears to be a misconception that transferring drainage to EPCOR would save the city money because all the expenses of the utility would also be transferred.
Lanny Chudyk says Edmontonians should keep control of the city's drainage utility. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

That cost doesn't go away, he said.

"It's just a different hand reaching into your pocket and this will be a hand reaching into your pocket that also has a for-profit component to it," he said.

EPCOR's LeRiche said Monday's report needs to be viewed as one that was written for and paid for by two labour groups.

"We would encourage people to read the Grant Thornton report, which is an independent, third-party assessment about the drainage transfer proposal," he said.

"It's a public document. That Grant Thornton report concluded that the transfer proposal has strong merit which will benefit the city and its ratepayers."

City council will discuss the EPCOR proposal Wednesday.


Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.