In-house rules

The Campbell administration's devotion to the virtues of privatizing and contracting-out government services seems to have been wavering lately. For example, in February, The Surrey Leader's Jeff Nagel paraphrased Partnerships British Columbia chief executive officer Larry Blain as saying "switching from private to public borrowing" for the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 expansion project will save $200 million in financing costs. Ministries have also been asked to keep their professional services contracts to a minimum. And here's another example: during estimates debate last week, Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell said the government's Forests for Tomorrow program - which was being administered by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP - has been taken in-house, saving $200,000.

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Well, privatization (in the guise of “public-private partnerships” or “P3s”) is definitely still in the offing for CRD sewage treatment. Water and wastewater service contracts are sweet deals for corporations, who for years have been actively lobbying every level of government for access to these utilities. With only one set of pipes, these services are natural monopolies; any competition is over once the contract is signed.

Most Canadian waterworks are public, representing a huge potential market for privatization of these services. With a trend in the water business towards bigger/fewer companies - some of which have terrible reputations – municipalities entering into P3 contracts are ushered into a world of hostile takeovers, spinoffs, "acquisition targets" and "strategic sales of assets." Even if the CRD signs a P3 contract with a "good corporate citizen," there is no guarantee - especially with a multi-decade contract - that the company will not change hands, and no P3 contract can prevent it.

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