August 9, 2009

Kangaroo session at Winnipeg's city hall

note: this report by freelance reporter Michael Welch of the proceedings at Winnipeg's City Hall over the P-3 option for the waterworks was originally circulated by e-mail and later rewritten for the newspaper People's Voice. Another PV article gives an analysis of the issue. Rebel Youth presents the article here as we feel this issue is relevant to youth and students as well. Why? The same forces at work here attack any ideal of univeral post-secondary education. And it goes without saying that this issue is important since water is one of life's basic necessities, not a commodity. Increased water rates can affect services like laundromats and housing rental costs for students. The Canadian Federation of Students made a presentation at city hall urging that the water supply remains public.

Right: cartoon poking fun at people who make shortsighted decisions.

"Let's not throw the word "privatization" around the way Joe Mccarthy threw the word Communist around!"
- Councillor Justin Swandel

Mayor Katz got his way.

At the end of the day (literally) Council voted 10-6 to approve of the new Utility and strategic partnership model.

This is a disappointing but not entirely unexpected development.

There were about 200 people at the rally the previous night along with excellent speeches, music and a big white elephant!

On the day of the vote, almost as many people showed up and packed both galleries.
outside, a camera was set up to allow critics of the Utility P3 to have their say. It was a kind of "speaker's corner."

At the outset, one of the Councilors, Justin Swandel, did attempt to limit the number of speakers to four, but Council ultimately agreed to hear the 20 speakers who signed up to speak.

At the outset, there were three or four people who spoke out in favour of the water utility, one arguing that further delay would cost the taxpayers money.

THEN THE DELEGATIONS SPOKE OUT AGAINST THE UTILITY. One of the people who had signed up to speak did not show up, so the next speaker, Phyllis Watson of the Council of Women of Winnipeg spoke on the flawed consultation process.

Following Phyllis were the following presentations all approximately 5 minutes long:

John Loxley (Danger of P3s with Examples); Jesse Hajer, CCPA-MB ( Poor Cost Saving Predictions in Business Plan ); Mike Davidson, CUPE MB (Distinction between Upgrades and Utility Model) ;Chris Leo (Urban Sprawl); Alana Makinson, CFS-MB (Youth Perspective); David Cavett-Goodwin, Wolseley Residents Association (Lack of Accountability and Public Control)

Around 11:30 there was a break to allow a different subject to be debated, that over the removal of a heritage building.

Then there was lunch. Over the lunch hour, CKUW helpfully covered the Utility proceedings which included interviews and colour commentary by Tony Clarke, Maude Barlow and Jenny Gerbasi. An Archive of that broadcast can be found at .

After lunch, Robert Chernomas presented his talk based on the most recent Fast Facts by Maude Barlow and Meera Karunananthan which can be found at the website for the Centre for Policy Alternatives (

The remaining delegations included the following...

Tom Simms (Charleswood Bridge comparator); Christine Bennett-Clarke; Kevin Rebeck, CUPE MB (Labour Perspective); Sandy Gessler, SPC Board President (Health); GReen Party Leader James Beddome; Larry Klippenstein

Following the delegations, Council deliberated for about three hours. Predictably, the Councilors in opposition to the water corporatization plan raised our major concerns and showed that they had done their homework. Councilors Gerbasi and Orlikow were particularly notable in this regard.

Most of the rest of the Councilors betrayed through their comments that they were largely oblivious to the concerns being raised by opponents of this plan.. Councilor Swandel accused the opponents of "cherry-picking" and not being particularly honest in their appraisal of P3s. He of course ignored Jesse Hajer's devastating critique of the cherry-picking in the Utility Business Plan!

Councilor Steeves insisted that something has to change. That the current system wasn't working, and that something had to be done! If this writer hadn't been familiar with the documentary information indicating that the current system was working fine, he would probably have been impressed by the Councilor's presentation. Even the Deloitte and Touche report which has been used by Council and the Mayor to justify this new Utility has been clear that there was "nothing to suggest that current regulatory requirements and services were not being met" by the current Department of Water and Waste. Therefore, nothing to justify the creation of this highly controversial proposal.

And they call us fear-mongers!

Of course, Councilors Swandel and Steeves sounded like thoughtful and enlightened statesmen compared to most of the other proponents in Council. Councilors Browaty and Fielding clearly had not heard a word that had been said from the delegations. They repeated the canards about how increased involvement from the private sector would reduce costs to the public, reduce cost over-runs, etc.

One pleasant surprise, however was Russ Wyatt's change of heart. He sits on the EPC (Executive Policy Committee) and formerly voted with his colleagues to approve this proposal. Yesterday, he spoke eloquently on the need to engage the public in a proper consultation. At one point he noted that the site of the consultations, the Masonic Temple on Osborne, was not easily accessible to people in his community (Transcona). It bares noting that Russ Wyatt's constituents waged a major campaign against the proposed Olywest pork processing facility a few years ago.

A low point was struck by Mr. Harry Lazaranko who threw a tantrum criticizing the opponents of the Utility plan of "grandstanding" in front of the press and capitalizing on the ignorance of concerned citizens who were expressing concerns about privatization. He even suggested at one point that the presence of children and a man in a wheelchair was part of some kind of PR stunt! He maintained that the Utility plan was so clear and plain to read that "even a twelve year old child could understand it!"

Mr. Lazarenko was the author of an amendment which would call for a mandatory referendum before "Privatization of our water" could happen. By this he appears to mean a shift of ownership from the public to the private sector.

This amendment is a red herring. As Council of Canadians reps Maude Barlow and Meera Karunananthan explained in a recent release...

"Councillor Harry Lazarenko’s motion to ensure that privatization is not sought without a referendum does not allay concerns about the loss of public control over water services, hikes in water rates and the global impacts of creating a for-profit utility."

Of course, the Mayor in the end demonstrated his dismissal of the opponents' arguments, continuing the meme of how the opponents were fear-mongering and lying.

The heart of the opponents' arguments was that there was inadequate consultation and no real opportunity for the public to engage decision-makers. Critics were arguing that they have not gotten adequate answers to their questions!

By the end, there were around 40 of us trying to make sense of what happened. We mostly wandered off dejected and tired.

However, as has been pointed out both within Water Watch and within the Council of Canadians, we really didn't expect this Council to vote against the proposal even if the media ended up giving more coverage to the issue than we dared to dream for!

The next stage of the battle in the opinion of this writer, would involve the province's approval process.

If nothing else critics of the Mayor's plan have public opinion onside. According to a recent poll, nearly 2/3s of Winnipeggers oppose approval of this Utility without proper public consultation.

Michael A Welch

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