With the Canadian federal election just days away, it’s amazing that there’s been no media focus on the Liberals’ plan to privatize our municipal water and wastewater systems. As far as I can determine, only one alternative media site, Press Progress, has mentioned this worrisome plan, which was announced by the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) on July 15, 2019 when it agreed to provide $20 million in “innovative financing” for a public-private partnership (P3) in Mapleton, Ontario.
The Township of Mapleton is seeking a private consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the municipality’s new and existing water and wastewater infrastructure for twenty years. By committing $20 million to the project, the CIB claims it “will improve the cost of project financing and attract private capital expertise while ensuring appropriate risk transfer to the private sector.” The CIB considers this a “pilot project to demonstrate new models for structuring and financing smaller municipal water and wastewater infrastructure projects.” 
There’s a lot of confusing jargon and spin in those statements, but the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has cut through it with this observation: “There’s nothing new about federal programs and institutions that try to make P3s more palatable, especially to smaller municipalities. In this case, the CIB will subsidize the borrowing costs for corporations bidding on the 20-year deal … The bank is offering to lend the private sector money at a lower rate than corporations could get on their own. Details about the loan terms are blacked-out in public documents about the deal.” 
While the Township of Mapleton will still retain ownership of the core assets, the consortium that wins the contract will obtain a secure stream of profits from operating and maintaining the system for the next twenty years. No doubt, rates to homeowners will have to rise, as the consortium will want a solid return on its investment.
So what is this “new model” for structuring and financing such projects? We taxpayers will subsidize the borrowing costs of the private sector so they can privatize the revenue stream from our water and wastewater systems. Moreover, according to CUPE, Mapleton Township will have to pay back the $20 million to the CIB. 
In other words, the Canada Infrastructure Bank is hoping to prove that not only is there a sucker born every minute, but most of them live right here in Canada.
Breaking New Ground?
As CUPE President Mark Hancock told Press Progress,
“We’re very concerned this could be the start of a bigger push to privatize Canadian water and wastewater services.” 
That concern is shared by the Council of Canadians, which recently stated:
“One challenge to the commitment to public water services is governments’ growing reliance on public-private partnerships (P3s). The Canadian government is imposing new and higher standards on municipal wastewater treatment across the country – which is a good thing for water safety. However, it appears the only funding for this is through the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, which is run by corporations and promotes P3s. The changes from the new regulations must be in place by 2020, limiting municipal governments’ options to choose public solutions.” 
The Canada Infrastructure Bank (widely known as the “privatization bank”) is apparently keen to open up this sector for corporate profits. As CUPE notes,
“The CIB’s mandate is clear. It’s trying to break new ground in a sector where there are very few P3s. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that municipal and regional governments owned 3,400 water and wastewater facilities. Fewer than 20 municipalities have privatized their systems through some form of P3. The bank is zeroing in on the smallest communities, and is using Mapleton township as a pilot project.” 
The business case for the Mapleton project was presented to the town council by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the top global consultants that facilitate P3s. Not surprisingly, PwC recommended the CIB’s financing model.
With municipalities struggling financially across the country, and with many water and wastewater systems in need of upgrading, refurbishment, or outright creation, no doubt the private sector is thrilled about the new “innovative financing” from the CIB.
Just weeks after the CIB announcement about Mapleton Township, Google parent company Alphabet Inc. and affiliate Sidewalk Labs announced in August 2019 that they are partnering with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to launch a new company that invests in North American infrastructure. The new company, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, will operate and invest in five areas, including “water and waste”. 
 “Canada Infrastructure Bank Announces up to $20 Million Investment Commitment in Mapleton Water and Wastewater Project,” Canada Infrastructure Bank, July 15, 2019.
 “Infrastructure bank targets local water systems,” Canadian Union of Public Employees, July 19, 2019.
 “The Liberal Government Says It’s Looking to Privatize Municipal Water Systems Across Canada,” Press Progress, August 6, 2019.
”Whose Water is it, Anyway? book tour brings idea of Blue Communities across Canada,” Council of Canadians, September 25, 2019.
 “Infrastructure bank targets local water systems,” op cit.
 The Canadian Press, “Sidewalk Labs and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to launch infrastructure company,” CBC News, August 29, 2019.