Privatizing Canada’s Water Infrastructure Should be an Election Issue

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.” [1]

Confusing Spin

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.” [2]

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. [3]

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.” [4]

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.” [5]

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.” [6]

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”. [7]

MORE

NOTES:

[1] “Canada Infrastructure Bank Announces up to $20 Million Investment Commitment in Mapleton Water and Wastewater Project,” Canada Infrastructure Bank, July 15, 2019.

[2] “Infrastructure bank targets local water systems,” Canadian Union of Public Employees, July 19, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “The Liberal Government Says It’s Looking to Privatize Municipal Water Systems Across Canada,” Press Progress, August 6, 2019.

[5]”Whose Water is it, Anyway? book tour brings idea of Blue Communities across Canada,” Council of Canadians, September 25, 2019.

[6] “Infrastructure bank targets local water systems,” op cit.

[7] The Canadian Press, “Sidewalk Labs and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to launch infrastructure company,” CBC News, August 29, 2019.

A Brief History of Canada’s Failure to Fund Indigenous Kids Equitably

Instead, we’ve spent millions of dollars to avoid doing it.

Cindy Blackstock
The Trudeau government has challenged a decision ordering Canada to compensate Indigenous people hurt by the on-reserve child welfare system, to the tune of $2 billion. Advocate Cindy Blackstock has said such a challenge would represent ‘racial discrimination of the worst kind.’ Photo by Jeff McIntosh, the Canadian Press.

[Editor’s note: In light of the news that the Trudeau government is challenging a “landmark ruling” that orders Canada to compensate Indigenous children and families hurt by the on-reserve child welfare system, we publish a recent essay by Tyee reporter Katie Hyslop that explores the federal government’s history of chronic avoidance when it comes to funding Indigenous kids equitably. The essay, titled: “Why fund Indigenous child welfare equitably, when you can spend millions to delay instead?” recently appeared in our free Tyee newsletter, The Run. You can subscribe to The Run here.]

Two-thirds of the kids in British Columbia government care are Indigenous; nationally it’s over 50 per cent. Most are First Nations. Yet only about 10 per cent of children in Canada and B.C. are Indigenous. They’re vastly over-represented in care. And that’s partly because the federal government continues to uphold a racist child welfare system.

Let’s look at the tape.

In 2005, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society released a report on federal funding for status First Nations kids showing their medical and child welfare services received 30 per cent less funding per child than services for non-Indigenous children.

That same year, the society’s executive director Cindy Blackstock began lobbying the federal government to adopt Jordan’s Principle. Jordan River Anderson was born with multiple disabilities; disputes between the federal and provincial governments over who would pay for his treatment delayed his care for three years. Blackstock wanted governments to pledge to pay for care, and sort out the bills later.

She got her wish in 2007. Kids would come first next time.

Except they didn’t.

That same year Blackstock, along with the Assembly of First Nations, launched a new campaign. She filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission arguing the government had been discriminating against First Nations children by underfunding services. The next year, the commission sent the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Years of legal battles ensued. Stephen Harper’s federal government pulled out all the stops to get the case thrown out and — when that didn’t work — delay it. It also spied on and “retaliated” against Blackstock.

Eight years later, on Jan. 26, 2016, the tribunal ruled that the federal government knowingly underfunded child welfare and medical services for 165,000 First Nations kids living on reserves and in the Yukon.

The government knew it wasn’t spending enough to meet provincial/territorial standards for care. But it still didn’t provide enough money.

It was ordered to cease its discriminatory practices immediately, as well as reform and broaden the scope of its child welfare services and supports. Compensation for the discrimination was to be decided at a later date.

But the rights tribunal ruling didn’t bring change. The tribunal has issued eight non-compliance orders, to little effect.

While the government was unwilling to equitably fund services for Indigenous children, it was prepared to spend to deny them services. For example, from 2015 to 2018 the feds spent $100,000 in legal fees to avoid paying $6,000 for one First Nations child’s braces. The government eventually settled with the family.

This isn’t just about medical expenses. The main reason kids are in care is neglect. Child welfare researchers say this is another word for poverty, which is only exacerbated by underfunded services.

The government’s discrimination against Indigenous children, established by the action launched 12 years ago, comes with a price. Canada must pay every on-reserve First Nations child who was removed from their families (since 2006) for reasons other than abuse $40,000. The guardians who they were taken from receive $20,000 per child apprehended.

Status kids on or off reserve who were denied or delayed in receiving necessary medical services from 2007 (when the government adopted Jordan’s principle) to 2017 also receive $40,000. Their guardians get $20,000.

The Assembly of First Nations says the child apprehensions payments alone apply to about 54,000 people and will cost more than $2 billion.

Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies amount to $1,650 per Canadian. It’s got to stop.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vow to phase out ‘inefficient’ subsidies for coal, oil and gas still hasn’t happened — despite the escalating costs of the climate emergency

Alberta's oilsands North of Fort McMurray.

According to a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, Canada subsidized the fossil fuel industry to the tune of almost $60 billion in 2015 — approximately $1,650 per Canadian.

Yet subsidizing one of the world’s wealthiest industries is folly.

Such subsidies not only hurt Canadian taxpayers and the economy — they also exacerbate the climate emergency.

Indeed, the G20 countries have already agreed that subsidizing fossil fuels is irrational in a warming world — and have called for action to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that distort markets.

The problem is that subsidies encourage the production and wasteful consumption of fossil fuels all while impeding the shift to cleaner renewables.

For these reasons, during the last election campaign Justin Trudeau sensibly committed to “phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

The problem is that government has not yet delivered on this promise.

A new 2019 report by Canada’s Auditor General reveals government’s review of such subsidies is “incomplete and not rigorous,” is “not based on all relevant and reliable information” and “did not consider economic, social and environmental sustainability over the long term.”

Canada continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry in myriad ways. First, it provides tax breaks under the federal Income Tax Act. For example, in 2015 the federal government introduced a new accelerated depreciation rate for equipment used in LNG facilities, which was a change proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Encana gas wellA natural gas well pad with numerous wells for fracking near Farmington, B.C. The LNG industry in British Columbia is the recipient of numerous tax breaks and exemptions. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

Second, government provides funding to the fossil fuel industry at favourable rates through direct financing and loan guarantees. A recent example is Export Development Canada’s administration of a nearly $5 billion loan to support the government’s controversial purchase and operation of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Ottawa has no plan to recoup that principal cost from industry — and is also subsidizing half the interest expense with taxpayer dollars.

Third, Canada provides direct funding to the fossil fuel industry through research, development and other services provided by federal agencies.

For example, the federal government is paying $1.5 billion for the Oceans Protection Plan, an initiative to safeguard bitumen transport through the Port of Vancouver. This plan was necessitated by new oil tanker traffic — and should be paid for by oil shippers.

Justin Trudeau Trans Mountain Oceans Protection PlanPrime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Victoria in April of 2018 to reiterate the federal government’s support for the Trans Mountain pipeline and commitment to the Oceans Protection Plan. Photo: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

Finally, there is the $60 billion subsidy that the IMF focused on — the “social costs” of carbon that governments pay, instead of fuel producers.

Lacking adequate carbon taxes, governments continue to pick up the tab for the impacts of climate change — for example, repairing damage from extreme weather events, building new levees, sea walls and storm sewers and paying for wildfire control and increased health costs.  MORE

 

Trudeau pressed to give update on review of Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses supporters during a Liberal Party fundraiser in Surrey, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure from civil society groups to update Canadians before the October election on his government's review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses supporters during a Liberal Party fundraiser in Surrey, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure from civil society groups to update Canadians before the October election on his government’s review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure from civil society groups to update Canadians before the October election on his government’s review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Liberals launched a review of the $15-billion contract to ship light armoured vehicles to the Middle East kingdom last fall after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The announcement was also made at a time of deep concern over the risk Saudi Arabia could use the weapons in the ongoing war in Yemen, which has been devastating for civilians.

A letter sent this week to Trudeau from a dozen organizations says the public has a right to know the status of the review now that more than nine months have passed since the government first announced the probe.

“No update with respect to the progress of the review has been offered, bringing the sincerity of the effort into question,” said the letter, signed by organizations including Amnesty International Canada, Oxfam Canada and Save the Children Canada.

“Canadians are entitled to know the outcome of the government review, and a clear answer with respect to your government’s position on the export of LAVs from Canada to Saudi Arabia.”

The Liberal government halted all new export permits to the kingdom last fall, sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals and started the review of arms sales to the country amid concerns about a lack of a credible, independent investigation into Khashoggi’s killing and Saudi participation in the conflict in neighbouring Yemen.

The letter said any further delays to the review or the government’s eventual decision might mean that consequential actions will come too late, especially since Canada has continued to ship the vehicles to Saudi Arabia – including 127 last year alone, according to federal numbers.

Over the six months of 2019, government data show Canada has sold $1.2 billion worth of “tanks and other motorized armoured fighting vehicles (including parts)” to the kingdom.

The co-authors called on the government to suspend the LAV sale, and also spelled out the steps taken to date by other Western countries to stop or suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including the United Kingdom.

A British court ruled in June that it was unlawful for the U.K’s government to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The British government intends to appeal the ruling, but new sales have been suspended in the interim. MORE

Canada’s checkered history of arms sales to human rights violators

Image result for the conversation: Canada’s checkered history of arms sales to human rights violators
The controversial $12-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia has embroiled Justin Trudeau’s government in controversy. The vehicle in question is shown here at a news conference at a General Dynamics facility in London, Ont., in 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Spowart

The Canadian government has been taking flak lately for its arms sales.

Helicopters destined for the Philippines could be used for internal security in President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh crackdowns, critics charge.

The $12-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia has also embroiled Justin Trudeau’s government in controversy.

In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has pledged to review both deals, suggesting Canada is toughening up arms sales restrictions based on human rights grounds.

But how did Canada get into the international arms trade, anyway?

A look at the history of how Canada started selling weapons overseas following the Second World War reveals that, contrary to Freeland’s implication, Canada actually used to be much more restrictive on arms sales than it is today.

Canada has not made human rights any more central to its arms export policy than it was in the 1940s — in fact, it’s reduced oversight and the consideration of human rights issues when it comes to selling arms. MORE

Leak detailing Supreme Court appointment rift only shows how little Trudeau’s camp respects the rule of law

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with members of the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) in Winnipeg on March 26, 2019. JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The core question in the SNC-Lavalin affair is whether Justin Trudeau and his advisers respect the rule of law.

The answer appears to be that they have no respect for it at all, after an unnamed source, in an effort to smear former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, fed reporters a story about a dispute over choosing a judge for the Supreme Court.

Even Liberals are furious over the leak to The Canadian Press and CTV, presumably from someone inside the Trudeau government.

“It is outrageous that there is a leak with respect to the Supreme Court judicial appointment process,” Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the House of Commons ethics committee on Tuesday. “People from all parties ought to condemn that kind of thing.”

In 2013, Mr. Harper openly criticized Beverley McLachlin….This is worse: a deliberate leak to the media about private discussions between an attorney-general and a prime minister over a judge under consideration for the Supreme Court, with the leak intended to debase the reputation of the former attorney-general. Anyone now under consideration for a judgeship will have reason to fear that their application, too, could be leaked. The legal community should be on its hind legs over this. MORE

RELATED:

Andrew Coyne: The latest tactic to suppress Wilson-Raybould — smear a judge

 

Lobbied 22 times, Trudeau government proposes to let Alton Gas dump saltwater into Shubenacadie River


Mi’kmaq activist Dorene Bernard stands on the shores of the Shubenacadie River, a 72-kilometre tidal river that cuts through the middle of Nova Scotia and flows into the Bay of Fundy, in Fort Ellis, N.S. on July 31, 2018. Photo by Andrew Vaughan/CP

An Alberta oilpatch company met with federal officials 22 times last year to lobby them about major fossil fuel projects. Ottawa is now drafting rules to specifically allow the company, AltaGas, to dump saltwater into a major Nova Scotia river.

The government says the proposed rules would reduce risks to “fish, fish habitat, and human health from fish consumption” by creating limits on brine release into the Shubenacadie River as part of the Alton Gas project, which federal officials would then oversee.

The federal government is pushing a plan that would allow an energy company to dump saltwater into a tidal river over the objections of local Indigenous communities, @Lindsayleejones reports, as eyebrows raised over Ottawa’s priorities.

A government spokeswoman also said that it was in the early stages of consultations on the matter and would ensure high environmental standards on any decision.

But the Trudeau government’s proposed regulation and the direct benefit it would provide one company is raising eyebrows in light of the Trans Mountain pipeline imbroglio and SNC-Lavalin affair.

In all three cases, the Trudeau government attempted to propose policies under heavy lobbying pressure from the companies involved, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin, and now Alberta-based AltaGas. MORE