Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis is accusing incumbent Mayor Sam Katz of protecting the financial interests of a multinational consulting firm at the possible expense of the environmental health of the Lake Winnipeg watershed.
Wasylycia-Leis held a Sunday afternoon news conference to demand the mayor release details about a consulting contract between the City of Winnipeg and Veolia Canada, which the creators of Winnipeg's new water, sewer and garbage-collection utility chose to help the city make $615 million worth of improvements to two of its sewage-treatment plants.
The contract was approved by council in May and has yet to be signed. It cannot take effect until Winnipeg creates the new utility -- something that cannot happen until the provincial NDP government develops regulations to govern the utility.
Nonetheless, Wasylycia-Leis said the public must be able to scrutinize the deal the city intends to sign with Veolia to ensure the environment and the city's financial interests are protected.
The city intends to use Veolia's expertise to reduce the possibility of cost overruns at the North End and South End Water Pollution Control Centres. Cost overruns at the West End plant last decade were blamed in part on a lack of communication between designers and project managers.
The city wants to place its outside expertise in the same offices as the staff of the new utility. Utility project manager Bryan Gray has said no more than 15 Veolia employees will work with the city at any given time over the course of a 30-year contract.
Wasylycia-Leis, however, claims the city is being secretive about what the contract actually entails. She called on the mayor to make the contract public or, at the very least, release components of the contract that make Veolia's role completely clear.
She said if the mayor has nothing to hide, he would do this immediately, calling the contract a "backroom deal."
But she refused to say why the mayor would approve a contract that could be bad for the city, either financially or environmentally.
"I'm not going to speculate," she said.
Wasylycia-Leis brandished a rejected freedom-of-information request for information about the Veolia contract as proof of the city's secret. In fact, the city routinely denies all requests to release contracts.
Katz said Wasylycia-Leis should know that governments can not release confidential, proprietary information and dismissed her press conference as more criticism from a candidate who has not brought forth many ideas during this election campaign.
Katz said the city chose to create a utility and work with Veolia as part of an effort to prevent cost overruns and manage the city's $1.8- billion wastewater upgrade more effectively. The mayor said the city is interested in doing whatever it can to improve the Lake Winnipeg watershed and that includes continuing to lobby the province to make phosphorus removal, not nitrogen removal, a wastewater-treatment priority, as leading freshwater scientists have suggested.
Wasylycia-Leis said she has yet to develop a position on nitrogen removal.
Wasylycia-Leis, a former NDP MP and MLA, is one of five candidates seeking to unseat Katz as mayor in the civic election planned for Oct. 27.