More on sewage
by Fred McMahon


National Post

Re: Halifax’s Political Sewage Problem, July 13.

Sewage has flowed directly into Halifax harbour since the city was founded exactly 250 years ago. Halifax wants to build sewage treatment plants through a public-private partnership. In discussing my column on this, CUPE president Judy Darcy (Letters, July 27) correctly says I criticize Nova Scotia public-private partnerships (P3) for school construction. They are troubled by patronage, conflicts of interest, and inadequate tendering. Ms. Darcy wrongly concludes all P3 arrangements are bad.

Where P3 arrangements have been competently, honestly and openly run, large public benefits result. Private efficiencies are brought to provision of public services. The British privatization of water services, far from the disaster Ms. Darcy describes, has been a triumph, with reduced pollution and cleaner drinking water. Yes, rates went up. Private operators took over often decrepit systems, reflecting government’s laxness as a regulator when government is being regulated.

Hamilton’s water services privatization, which Ms. Darcy discusses, is a case study of how not to proceed. There was no bidding for the contract, eliminating market competition. The contract was muddily written. No one knew who exactly was responsible for what, or who would pay the bills if something went wrong.

I support the Halifax Harbour Solutions Project, which is moving P3 forward responsibly. I still worry politics may derail the process, as it has derailed so many attempts to solve Halifax’s sewage problem. I remain suspicious of the Halifax Water Commission’s stated desire to be named project manager, though I was wrong when I wrote the commission in the past had been responsible for the sewage system. Instead, no one seems to have been responsible. Halifax Harbour Solutions adopted this orphan, and may live up to its name of finding a solution.