Councillors OK 30-year deal

Despite opposition, Veolia to upgrade sewage plants

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They debated whether it's a public-private partnership, whether Veolia has a nasty corporate track record and whether the public ought to know the details of the 30-year contract.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/05/2010 (4579 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They debated whether it’s a public-private partnership, whether Veolia has a nasty corporate track record and whether the public ought to know the details of the 30-year contract.

But in the end, councillors voted 9-4 to hire Veolia Canada to design and build the upgrades and partially operate two sewage-treatment plants.

The value of the deal is murky, but city officials promise it will save the city 10 to 20 per cent on a $1.2-billion bill to upgrade and help run the plants. It’s not clear how much Veolia will be paid, how the multinational will save the city money or how much of the day-to-day operation Veolia will manage. Opposition councillors, along with about a dozen members of the public who spoke, demanded answers to those questions during the day-long debate.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Demonstrator Cheryl-Anne Carr rolls out the petition calling for city hall to release the details of its deal with Veolia.

"You have a legal and fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the citizens you represent," said Monika Feist, president of the Council of Women of Winnipeg. "In agreeing to sign at this time, you are failing us as citizens."

But Mayor Sam Katz and his executive policy committee argued the city never makes the details of any contract public and an army of lawyers, accountants and engineers within the city and in the private sector have vetted the deal.

"Why don’t you have faith in our staff who have done their due diligence?" Katz asked opposition councillors. "At some point in time you gotta believe in the people who may have a little more knowledge than you."

Katz said the city will still retain complete ownership and control of the sewage plants and will never contract out jobs.

But Coun. Dan Vandal said the deal appears to be driven by ideology that favours the private sector over the public service and is willing to sacrifice transparency and accountability. And, he said the deal sends the city down a dangerous path — handing over its drinking water to Veolia.

"Once this is approved this afternoon and Veolia is managing our waste water for the next 30 years, they are going to do everything in their power to manage our water next," said Vandal. "You can count on it."

Veolia will be paid a management fee plus a share of the savings it manages to reap for the city — a sort of performance bonus. If there are any cost overruns on the upgrades, Veolia will cover about half, meaning it shares the risk.

Katz said once the upgrades are underway, he will gladly tell the public what Veolia reaped in savings. Until then, there is no way to tell, or even offer a range.

Mayoral candidate and former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who attended most of Wednesday’s meeting, called the deal undemocratic and a symptom of city hall’s closed-door deal-making.

If Wasylycia-Leis gets elected this fall, she said she would allow councillors to see the deal and release the details to the public.

However, she said she couldn’t promise to rescind the deal without seeing it first in case the penalties are too stiff.

 

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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