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  • Help us build a better Ontario September 14, 2017
    If you live in Ontario, you may have recently been selected to receive our 2017 grassroots poll on vital issues affecting the province. Your answers to these and other essential questions will help us decide what issues to focus on as we head towards the June 2018 election in Ontario. For decades, the CCPA has […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Does the Site C dam make economic sense for BC? August 31, 2017
    Today CCPC-BC senior economist Marc Lee submitted an analysis to the BC Utilities Commission in response to their consultation on the economics of the Site C dam. You can read it here. In short, the submission discussses how the economic case for Site C assumes that industrial demand for electricity—in particular for natural gas extraction […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Ontario's middle and working class families are losing ground August 15, 2017
    Ontario is becoming more polarized as middle and working class families see their share of the income pie shrinking while upper middle and rich families take home even more. New research from CCPA-Ontario Senior Economist Sheila Block reveals a staggering divide between two labour markets in the province: the top half of families continue to pile […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Join us in October for the CCPA-BC fundraising gala, featuring Senator Murray Sinclair August 14, 2017
    We are incredibly honoured to announce that Senator Murray Sinclair will address our 2017 Annual Gala as keynote speaker, on Thursday, October 19 in Vancouver. Tickets are now on sale. Will you join us? Senator Sinclair has served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba, […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • How to make NAFTA sustainable, equitable July 19, 2017
    Global Affairs Canada is consulting Canadians on their priorities for, and concerns about, the planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In CCPA’s submission to this process, Scott Sinclair, Stuart Trew and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood point out how NAFTA has failed to live up to its promise with respect to job and productivity […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

P3 or No Federal Funding: A Third Option for Regina Wastewater?

The Queen City’s water debate has boiled over since I last blogged about it. City Council decided to build a new wastewater-treatment facility as a public-private partnership (P3), but a group of concerned citizens gathered 24,000 signatures to force a referendum on whether to “publicly finance, operate and maintain the new wastewater treatment plant for Regina.”

There has been much debate about the City’s anti-democratic tactics as well as the substance of the P3 proposal. The City Clerk overstepped Saskatchewan’s Cities Act in a desperate attempt to invalidate the petition. Since Council conceded that it would hold a referendum, the City has been pouring resources into the (pro-P3) “No” campaign.

Both sides of the debate seem to have accepted the premise that federal funding is tied to the project being a P3. The “No” campaign contends that rejecting the P3 means rejecting up to $58.5 million (a quarter of project costs) from the P3 Canada Fund.

The “Yes” campaign has argued that public financing, operation and maintenance is a better deal even without federal support. In Thursday’s Leader-Post, the Old Man noted that the promised P3 Canada Fund grant would not even offset the profit and higher interest charges incurred by the private partner.

Interestingly, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s recent Leader-Post commentary did not state that the P3 Canada Fund is the only federal money available. He indicated that the City chose the P3 option and then applied to P3 Canada. That begs the question of why the City couldn’t decide against the P3 option and then apply to a different federal infrastructure fund.

As I point out in the current edition of Prairie Dog magazine, the 2013 federal budget unveiled a new Building Canada Fund, which does not strictly require P3s, the month after City Council chose the P3 option.

The classic Big Lebowski line, “New shit has come to light!,” seems appropriate to a debate about sewage. So, did City Council revisit its decision in light of this new shit?

The Mayor tells Prairie Dog, “That doesn’t come into play until the current Building Canada Fund is finished and that doesn’t happen until at least 2014. So we’re looking well into the future.”

It’s not true that we have to wait for the existing Building Canada Fund to deplete. Already-committed money will continue flowing from it for years after the new Building Canada Fund becomes available in 2014. (See the “Existing program funding” line in Table 3.3.1 of the federal budget.)

The 2014-15 fiscal year is only seven months away. It’s not clear that Regina would get P3 Canada money any sooner than that, since Ottawa will not write the cheque until after construction starts.

In any case, the timing of the federal contribution is not critical. Borrowed money will cover the project’s upfront costs and be repaid from utility bills over the coming decades. Whether those multi-decade loans are locked in at the City’s AA+ interest rate or at a private partner’s higher interest rate is far more important than whether the federal cheque arrives in 2013, 2014, 2015 or even 2016, when the new plant must be operational.

P3 apologists are trying to characterize a “Yes” vote as turning away federal funding. In fact, voting “Yes” would give the City of Regina a strong democratic mandate to seek federal funding without P3 strings attached, which is entirely possible within Ottawa’s existing fiscal framework.

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Comments

Comment from Thomas Bergbusch
Time: August 28, 2013, 9:14 am

Excellent summary.

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