August 23, 2009

WINNIPEG WATER CHANGES "A MONUMENTAL ROBBERY", PV Manitoba Bureau, People's Voice, 23 Aug 2009


(The following article is from the August 1-31, 2009, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $25/year, or $12 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $25 US per year; other overseas readers - $25 US or $35 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 133 Herkimer St., Unit 502, Hamilton, ON, L8P 2H3.)

PV Manitoba Bureau

Ignoring demands for public hearings and widespread opposition to privatization, Winnipeg City Council voted 10-6 on July 22 to create an "arms length" municipal water corporation with the authority to sell water outside City limits and to privatize some of its services.

The Communist Party called the changes "a monumental, undemocratic robbery" and a giant betrayal of Winnipeg, especially the core area which has some of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods. "The polite fiction that provincial parties should stay out of civic politics needs to be set aside on an issue of this magnitude and urgency," said the Party.

The sale of water outside Winnipeg will alter the region's development for decades to come, yet its effect on housing in the core and throughout Winnipeg was essentially ignored. Constantly denying that privatization was proposed, Mayor Sam Katz and his supporters manipulated the debate to avoid the housing issue.

Urged on by people like David Angus of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Council voted for the proposal with slight amendments. Angus argued the debate was purely ideological and capable of being decided without reference to any facts. But the day will come when Mr. Angus' chamber of commerce in a hollowed-out, impoverished Winnipeg will be smaller than the one outside the city.

The water corporation will privatize up to 49 per cent of "new wastewater treatment infrastructure services," which will just be the start. Dozens of organizations spoke against privatization, defending wages, jobs and democratic control of the utility.

The Communist Party further pointed out that "access to water and development are intimately combined" and that the proposal failed to study the impact or reveal who would benefit outside the city.

"I cannot imagine a more unpatriotic measure by a City Council," said Darrell Rankin, Manitoba leader of the Communist Party. "No one wants a City Council that supports giant, private land speculators outside the perimeter at their expense. Mayor Katz stated he does not want elected politicians to control the new water corporation. We don't need a corporation that gives sweet deals to major corporate customers and subsidizes the cost of new water lines to new developments outside of Winnipeg. Residential water bills are going to skyrocket. We need democratic control of water."

The vote signifies that land developers outside Winnipeg have more sway than those inside, which is essentially being abandoned. About four large land development corporations dominate the market in the region. Major new industrial and housing developments outside Winnipeg will devastate the city as a whole. The plan will not help existing rural dwellers with better water services.

"With one vote, City Council will erase all the housing improvements in Winnipeg's core area. (This) will show their true attitude to the thousands of families looking for decent, affordable housing in Winnipeg," said Rankin. The vote would break decades of promises by all levels of government "made to Aboriginal organizations, housing coalitions and anti‑poverty groups" to end the housing crisis.

In an earlier statement, the Communist Party urged people to "protest the proposal and vow to defeat any City Councillor voting in favour of the measure" and for other provincial parties to set out their views, calling for the Manitoba legislature to hold an emergency session "to prevent any privatization or corporate model."

Acting in contempt of democracy, Katz and his supporters on Council released the new corporation's business plan on June 26, less than a month before the vote. On July 15, nearly 30 groups and citizens expressed opposition at a meeting of Council's executive policy committee. An opinion poll released on July 21 said that 67 per cent of the public wanted to delay the vote to allow more time for study and improvements to the plan.

Nearly fifty people rallied against the proposal at a July 15 protest organized by the Winnipeg Labour Election Committee, which announced a second rally to be held the day before the vote. Nearly 300 attended the July 21 rally which featured a broad range of speakers.

An essential step in the efforts to overturn this decision will be to unite the unions which fought the privatization of the water utility with a broad coalition of forces that will protect housing and industrial development in Winnipeg. This will be even more important than relying on the provincial government to block this dangerous proposal.

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