|Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on September 22, 2010 at 11:39 PM|
For Immediate Release:
September 22, 2010
Local public advocacy group tells the city to "show us the money" following blocked freedom of information request.
Winnipeg (MB) - As Winnipeg City Council convenes for the final time before the civic election, a local citizens' organization is demanding the disclosure of critical details surrounding a long term waste water treatment contract.
The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians sent out a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request last May demanding to know more about the award of contract to the firm Veolia Canada.
In May of this year, the city announced its intention to negotiate a contract worth over $1-billion with a Canadian subsidiary of the France-based trans-national firm Veolia in order to complete provincially mandated sewage treatment upgrades without inviting cost overruns.
This agreement was criticized by citizens' groups, including the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation on the grounds that it was an expensive thirty year contract that not one of the Councilors had read, and that it was sketchy about how Veolia would secure its profits and reduce the overall cost of the project by 10-20%.
The Council of Canadians Winnipeg chapter sought information about the business case behind these calculations. The city responded by saying the information was withheld on the grounds that "disclosure (would be) harmful to a third party's business interests," and that in the case of the basis for the 10-20% savings, "the information is already available in the report" on the sewage treatment and expansion program award of contract.
Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter representative Michael Welch who filed the request says that blocking of information is not unheard of where public-private partnerships are involved.
"This characteristic is part of what motivated us to oppose this P3 framework in the first place," he says.
Moreover, a major selling point of the new Water and Waste governance plan which enabled this setup, he says, was the assertion that the resulting changes would lead to more transparency. To quote the June 2009 Utility Business Plan: "The Public Service recommends the establishment of a 100%City-owned, arm’s length Municipal Utility that the City cannot sell in whole orin part. This will benefit citizens, ratepayers, and employees by makingservice more accountable and transparent, and ensuring the long termsustainability of the Utility.”
What is even more concerning, from Welch's perspective, is the contention that information about the business case would be proprietary, thereby invoking the need to protect "a third party's business interests."
"A business case by definition captures the logic behind undertaking a project," he explains. "It is not specific to any one company and would have been prepared before Veolia was ultimately selected by city staff."
The Council of Canadians-Winnipeg Chapter has filed a complaint with the provincial ombudsman and is waiting for a reply. In the meantime, the group is urging opposition councilors like Veolia deal critic Jenny Gerbasi to force these details out into the open and encouraging Council and Mayoral candidates and the general public to press Veolia deal supporters in council on this issue during the municipal elections.