ABBOTSFORD – More than 200 local residents took time Sunday for a public meeting on Abbotsford’s controversial P3 water plan.
The mostly South Asian audience heard from municipal candidates, residents and local temple and society leaders. The event was sponsored by Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford and the Council of Canadians. Every speaker opposed the City of Abbotsford’s proposed Public Private Partnership for drinking water supply and urged everyone to get out and vote ‘No’ in the P3 referendum on Saturday, Nov. 19.
CUPE local 774 president Murray Jones refuted recent claims by the Abbotsford mayor that the city needs a private company to control the water because it doesn’t have the expertise. Jones’ local represents water workers at the Norrish Creek treatment plant that supplies most of Abbotsford’s water. “We have the most highly trained people at that plant, and we are against this P3, not because we’re concerned about missing out on jobs, but because we don’t believe a private company would be as accountable to the public as we are.”
While the meeting shifted fluidly from Punjabi to English and back to Punjabi, the message remained constant; that the proposed P3 is a bad deal for Abbotsford. Recurring themes centred on patching the damaged relationship with neighbouring Mission and seeking a regional water supply, refusing to accept that the Stave Lake P3 is the only option open, and questions about being tied to an expensive for-profit deal for the next 30 years. Also constant were high praise for two of the speakers – incumbent city councillor Patricia Ross and former Chief City Engineer Ed Regts.
Ross is the only sitting councillor to oppose Mayor George Peary’s P3 dream. She explained that “Abbotsford and Mission had an agreement to pursue our water needs together through the Water and Sewer Commission. When Mission voiced serious concerns about the P3 option, Abbotsford went ahead without them. “That’s not the way to treat our neighbours and partners - we have to make peace with Mission”, Ross said to rousing applause. Ross added that a project with private design/build and publically run would be the “perfect balance.” Ross said “voting no P3 doesn’t mean we won’t have water, it only means we won’t have a P3.”
Regts reiterated his stand that city claims of an impending water shortage are alarmist and that “we should be using existing sources to their full potential first, instead of a system designed and priced for twice our population. The costs of the P3 are just too high – we should be looking at a step-by-step approach for the water we need,” Regts said. He pointed to estimates on proposed water fee hikes for the average family jumping to $550 from $350, calling them “excessive and punitive.”
Water Watch spokesperson Daljit Sidhu said “the city says there is only one option, but there is always another option – we have time to look at the water system and find the best suitable choice for our water – right now the only real option we in this room have is to get out and vote ‘No’. Think about it – that’s our money and we have the right to decide how it is used.”
Council of Canadians spokesperson Harjap Grewal reminded the audience of the notorious Olympic Village project in Vancouver, where taxpayers ended up on the hook to private developers for more than twice the amount originally promised by the city.
Local temple leader Sukhdev Jatana received cheers from the crowd when he said “P3 stands for Profit, Profit, Profit” while resident Gursewak Singh Raja said “they control the oil, the gold, the water and soon they will control the very air that we breathe – we should never trust politicians who go against the people.”
Murray Jones said that “if Jack Layton were here today he would be saying that on behalf of all Canadians we must keep our water public.” Jones pointed to a conservation program Layton initiated in Toronto using low flush toilets and low volume shower heads that has had an immense impact on lowering daily water usage. “We have to start with conservation,” he said.
Jones ended with a poem:
Do not take for granted
That you hold your life
In your hand
This is an important battle
And you have to make a stand
Vote no to P3.
For photos of the event please visit Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford’s Facebook page.