Townhall meeting set to blast Veolia deal

A telephone townhall meeting is set to be held Thursday evening about Winnipeg's controversial wastewater management deal with Veolia Canada.

A telephone townhall meeting is set to be held Thursday evening about Winnipeg's controversial wastewater management deal with Veolia Canada.

What the robocall said:


My name is Vicki Burns and I’m calling to invite you to participate in Winnipeg’s first virtual town hall that will take place tomorrow night to discuss the future of Winnipeg’s wastewater treatment plants.

Last Spring, Mayor Katz and the majority of council voted to enter into a secret 30-year contract with Veolia, an international company from France, to operate and maintain Winnipeg’s wastewater treatment plants.

Tomorrow night I’ll be calling you again at 7:00 p.m. to give you the chance to ask questions about this deal and hear stories about Veolia and the relationship it has had with other cities across North America. This is arguably the biggest issue the city has faced in years, so it’s important that you hear how this could affect Winnipeg’s wastewater services for generations to come.

I hope you can join me live tomorrow night at 7 pm."

The meeting, which will take place via telephone conference call, is being put on by the Winnipeg Citizens Coalition (WCC).

But the man responsible for keeping a lid on the details of the Veolia contract, Mayor Sam Katz, is accusing his main opponent in the Oct. 27 municipal election of being behind the townhall.

A spokesperson for the Katz election campaign claims the WCC is working for Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

"The groups who paid for this are working for Judy," said Marnie Larkin, who characterized the meeting as "fear mongering."

About 100,000 Winnipeggers received so-called robocalls (automated messages) Wednesday night asking them to take part in the townhall at 7 p.m.

Those that accepted will be notified when it is time to participate and hear from two critics who will weigh in on the deal.

The critics are people from California and Indiana, but they have not yet been named.

Potential to be $1.2B deal

In May, city council approved the $660-million, 30-year-contract with the private company to design, build and help manage two waste-water plants.

Other components of the deal could bring its total value to $1.2 billion.

Neither city councillors nor the public were made privy to the details. Katz has refused to release details of the arrangement citing business confidentiality but has said the deal will ultimately save taxpayers money.

Wasylycia-Leis has pledged to release details of the Veolia deal and all major public contracts with the city if elected as mayor.

According to a poll, released earlier this month and conducted by Probe Research on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Union, 78 per cent of Winnipeggers want details of the contract unveiled before the election.

Bobbie Ethier, co-chair of the townhall meeting, hopes the conference gives voters food for thought.

"During the whole Veolia negotiations and contract engagement  there was no discussion with citizens and we think that's wrong. So this will be the first time that citizens living in Winnipeg, Winnipeg taxpayers, will have the chance to pose questions and hopefully get some answers," she said.

"Our own sitting city councillors don't have the full details of the deal. We just don't think that is a good way of running the city."