Talks 'intense' about privatizing water
says private-sector know-how is needed, but serious
concerns raised by Montreal councillor and others
Allowing municipalities to cede
delivery of public services - particularly water - to
the private sector is part of "intense"
discussions by the provincial government, Municipal
Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said yesterday.
While some ministers in Premier Jean
Charest's cabinet have raised concerns about the
spectre of water meters and private water management,
Fournier spelled out the government's guideline for
privatization in a speech in Montreal: Private
enterprise would have to offer the same or better
service at a lower cost.
Moreover, municipalities would have
to retain ownership of assets and accountability for
the services, he said. A proposal could come at
provincial budget time, he said. That means early next
Fournier made the remarks at a
conference on infrastructure organized by the Centre
d'expertise et de recherche en infrastructures
The Liberal government is studying
public-private partnership models that could be
adapted to Quebec for municipal services, Fournier
told the crowd, whose members were from private
public-works firms and municipal organizations.
Asked later what services he meant,
he said: "At this time we are certainly looking
very, very, very much at the water."
After a Liberal general council this
year, Charest discounted water as a service that could
But Fournier said yesterday that
private-sector know-how and funds are needed because
$1 billion a year over 15 years is required to fix
infrastructure, most of it for water, across Quebec.
Private-public partnership is not
the same thing as privatization, Fournier said.
"Whatever you call it, it will
make public ownership symbolic only," said Yves
Bellavance, spokesperson for the Table régionale des
organismes volontaires en éducation populaire, an
umbrella group of Montreal community organizations.
The Charest government has already
raised the hackles of unions, tabling amendments to
the Labour Code last week that would facilitate
outsourcing of work.
The chairperson of the Centre
d'expertise, Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, said he
favours privatization, at least for roadwork and
sewage treatment, because it would save money and help
smaller towns that lack funds to build infrastructure.
The long-awaited Highway 25 link
from Laval to Montreal could be built by a private
firm and paid for with tolls, he said.
Montreal, however, did not offer an
"We think water management
should be within the hands and control of city
council," said Councillor Alan DeSousa, in charge
of sustainable development for Mayor Gérald
Tremblay's administration, when told of Fournier's