As the city of Calgary discusses its options surrounding the provision of regional water services, the possibility of third-party water service providers brings much heated debate.

While Metro last week covered the benefits of a private-public water system, there are also those who feel it would have a negative impact on the city.

Sheila Muxlow, from the prairie chapter of the Council of Canadians, said while Okotoks and Edmonton have seemingly good partnerships with EPCOR, there are many downsides to public-private services.

“Unfortunately, it brings the same erosion of public accountability and transparency with the services in the process,” Muxlow told Metro.

On Friday, EPCOR pointed out benefits of the public-private system and said prices remain low in Edmonton and Okotoks where they operate, but Muxlow said there are no guarantees those rates will be the norm.

“Corporations are bound by law to put their shareholders’ profits before the health of the public or the environment. That means they are seeking to improve their bottom dollar only,” she said.

The Council of Canadians point out what happened in Hamilton, Ont. — the first city to contract out water services — after council voted for a public-private partnership. After sewage floods, job losses and secrecy, the city took back operations of their water in 2004.

CUPE Alberta president D’Arcy Lanovaz agreed that transparency and accountability coupled with cost concerns are all factors in why citizens shouldn’t want their water services contracted out.

CUPE’s main concern with the Edmonton model of services is that they are one step closer to privatizing the entire system after city council there narrowly approved the sale of a key sewage plant.

Lanovaz said while he hasn’t seen evidence Calgary is going the way that Okotoks and Edmonton did, he wouldn’t support it either. “We would definitely be very opposed to anything like that happening in Calgary, and we would make sure everyone knows about the risks involved,” he added.

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