VICTORIA—In advance of World Water Day 2009, the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition hosted a well-attended public forum to discuss new sewage treatment in the Capital Regional District, privatization and public-private partnerships (P3s).
Held at Camosun College’s Lansdowne Campus on March 12, the evening featured a panel moderated by Maeve Lydon, of the UVic Office of Community Based Research. Lydon got the forum audience warmed up by getting them to introduce themselves to someone new in the room.
This was followed by a panel consisting of: John Knappett, president, Knappett Projects Inc.; Blair Redlin, CUPE National research representative; and Dwayne Kalynchuk, CRD Environmental Services.
The CRD’s Kalynchuk gave an update on the sewage treatment planning project and discussed the options being considered that would involve anywhere from four plants to 12 plants, at costs ranging from $1.2 to $2 billion. He talked about the significant public investment in the current sewer systems – valued at approximately $4 billion in capital assets. Kalynchuk discussed the next steps in terms of public consultation, which is beginning now, and the development of the business case to precede a decision on how the project will be procured, which will happen through the summer and early fall.
CUPE’s Blair Redlin gave an information-packed presentation on P3s. Redlin took on the arguments of P3 proponents that privatization is better value and less risky for the public. He offered a range of examples including projects such as the Kamloops Centre for Water Quality and the Whistler sewage treatment upgrade which were publicly procured following community rejection of P3s. He also discussed P3 failures such as the Port Mann Bridge and Metronet in London, England.
The panel was rounded out by Victoria-based engineer John Knappett, who spoke very frankly about concerns with P3s. Knappett, whose company has built many public infrastructure projects in B.C., said that P3s have hurt the B.C. construction industry – with the work going to big transnational companies who bring in their own people. As well as a loss in terms of local jobs and revenue, he also expressed concern that the opportunity to develop critical local expertise is lost.
Knappett took direct aim at the B.C. government’s mantra that P3s are on-time and on-budget, saying that “with enough time and enough money you’re always on time and on budget.” He also noted that most publicly procured projects are on time and on or under budget.
Describing the CRD sewage treatment project as the biggest ever in Greater Victoria, he expressed the concern of many local contractors that medium-sized companies will simply be dealt out of the CRD project if it is a public-private partnership controlled by the B.C. government’s privatization agency, Partnerships BC.
Knappett also brought copies of an article written by him entitled “P3’s: No country for old contractors,” excerpts of which were published in the Business Examiner in the summer of 2008.