Interview with Elizabeth Brubaker
The Joe Easingwood Show, CFAX 1070 Radio
April 26, 2007
JOE EASINGWOOD (CFAX-AM): Open Phone Victoria coming up later in this hour. To begin, though, why you should know someone by the name of Elizabeth Brubaker from Environment Probe, a water policy expert. The involvement of the private sector in water and waste water management through public-private partnerships, a different perspective here for you this morning. Elizabeth, welcome to CFAX 1070.
ELIZABETH BRUBAKER (Water Policy Expert, Environment Probe): Thank you, Joe.
EASINGWOOD: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Environment Probe.
BRUBAKER: Well, Environment Probe is a division of the Energy Probe Research Foundation. We’re an environmental research organization based in Toronto. We’ve been working on water issues for the last 15 years or so. Over the years we’ve become persuaded that the private sector has a lot to offer us in terms of helping us solve some of our water quality and sewage pollution problems.
EASINGWOOD: As we move through this discussion with you, you’re well aware of our situation in Victoria on the proposed sewage treatment at $1.2 billion. This has been mandated now by the provincial government, and the initial figure we hear is 1.2 billion. What a lot of taxpayers are frightened of is that will double or triple, and then what’s it going to cost to maintain each year? Can you give us some examples of where this sort of thing has worked out OK, the good example, then maybe contrast that with some bad examples?
BRUBAKER: OK. Well, you know, the most dramatic example of the private sector solving a sewage pollution problem was England and Wales. Now, it’s not quite the same as what you’re looking at in Victoria because, rather than being a public-private partnership, they privatized. They sold their systems to the private sector.
BRUBAKER: They cleaned up sewage pollution incredibly quickly and incredibly successfully. They invested tens of billions of pounds. I think they’re up to about 50 billion pounds now. And they started installing treatment plants, upgrading existing plants. They started opening beaches. Drinking water became much better. I mean, it was an incredible story that we saw over there. And that was in fact what interested me initially in this whole issue. I was looking at beach closings and wondering why, here in Canada, we had to suffer so many closed beaches every summer.
BRUBAKER: And I saw there that, a third of the coastal beaches were closed the year before privatization, and ten years later only one percent were closed. I thought wow, what is going on over there.
BRUBAKER: One of the interesting things over there is that, by privatizing, the government started feeling comfortable regulating, because it was no longer regulating itself. Rather than having a public regulator and a public operator, which was always in some kind of conflict of interest, the regulator was
freed up to regulate.
BRUBAKER: That created all sorts of new accountability mechanisms that ended up being very, very good for the environment. Now, nobody in Canada is talking about actually selling our systems. It’s just not going to happen. But we can tap into the private sector capital, we can tap into the private sector expertise, we can tap into the fact that they can operate so much more efficiently than the public sector. And, again, we can take advantage of some of these accountability mechanisms.
EASINGWOOD: Where is the private system better than the public system? It can it be either/or, or a blend, or what’s your thought?
BRUBAKER: I think it’s best really, especially in Canada, to have it a blend. I think that there is no appetite for purely private systems here in Canada. I think what the public wants is always very important. So, I think you’ve got to take that into consideration. What I’d like to see is public ownership of the plants but private operation, private financing where necessary, and the kind of private accountability mechanisms that you can get in that mix. The accountability mechanism that you’re talking about with… with private ownership and public operations is, of course, a contract.
BRUBAKER: I think that an enforceable contract can bring very, very impressive results. I mean, if you’ve got a contract where you write in the performance standards, where you have penalties for not meeting those standards, then you’ve got incredible incentives to…
EASINGWOOD: The idea of having the private sector involved, does that keep everything a little more honest because of some of the scrutiny ideas you’ve tossed out?
BRUBAKER: Yes. And… well, in fact there is… there is much better scrutiny usually. I mentioned that in England scrutiny became better.
BRUBAKER: In other places, as well. In Hamilton, which had a ten-year contract with a private company to operate its water and sewage systems, the government started paying much closer attention once the private operator took over. And that was a very interesting story. It was not entirely successful, and it wasn’t an entire failure. But the change in regulation was remarkable. The government all of a sudden started looking at the failures of the plant and slapping charges on the operator whenever something went wrong.
BRUBAKER: That sewage plant had been failing for years. It had been showing up on the provincial non-compliance list for years, and nobody had ever done anything about it until the private operator came in. And then the government thought OK, we’ve got a reason to expect better performance and, if we don’t get it, we’re going to start laying charges.
EASINGWOOD: Give us an idea of some bad examples. What are… what are some of the bad experiences here? I mean, you’ve… you’ve cited some good ones. What… what about the other side of the coin?
BRUBAKER: Well, as I mentioned, Hamilton was a mixed experience. I think most people would consider it a failure. They used a private operator for ten years and then decided to go back to public operations. Now, it did just about everything wrong. It didn’t privatize because it wanted to tap into the expertise of the private system. It didn’t privatize because it wanted to save money. It privatized because it wanted to help a local company……a local company that wanted to start up a water business.
And it said to Hamilton you give us a chance, we’ll bring you some economic development, because we’ll become a… we’ll become a major player in the field, and you’ll win, we’ll win.
Well, that means there was no competitive bidding process, and they didn’t get the kind of expertise they needed. They didn’t get the best deal they could have. And they admitted that. They said well, it’s not the best deal we could get, but it’s good enough. Well, it wasn’t good enough.
It also… interestingly enough, it didn’t protect its workforce, and that ended up being fatal. The unions had gone into the deal, sort of cautiously optimistic – not favouring it, but not violently opposed.
Then the operator laid off half the staff, through attrition, layoffs, other mechanisms. That of course created a lot of problems with the union, and they became extremely critical of the deal. That created all sorts of tensions within the workplace, and I don’t think Hamilton ever recovered from that. So I think you could learn a lot from that experience. You can say you must have competitive contracting.
BRUBAKER: I mean, that’s the only way to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You’ve got to go with somebody who’s got experience and expertise and capacity. You’ve got to go with a firm that’s done the research and has developed technologies and that knows what it’s doing, rather than going with a complete novice.
EASINGWOOD: What are your thoughts on what would be a good plan for Victoria in this regard?
BRUBAKER: Well, it should have a competitive bidding process, of course. It should make sure that it gets a really good, strong contract. And that is very, very important. It’s got to lay out all the performance expectations very clearly. And as I mentioned, there are some communities that actually… they actually write… right into the contract the write financial penalties for not performing well. And I think that’s a great idea. Say, in Milwaukee…
BRUBAKER: …where sewage is run by a private company, they… they are fined $100,000 for every… I think it’s milligram of BODs that they go over their permit with. And if they do better than performance expectations, then they get a bonus.
EASINGWOOD: Is it… and that’s enforced, is it?
BRUBAKER: That’s enforced.
BRUBAKER: And in fact, it creates this obvious and very powerful incentive.
BRUBAKER: And the contractor every year for years has performed well, well over expectations so that it can get a bonus. And it’s gotten its… I think it’s received its $50,000 bonuses year.
BRUBAKER: …which is very impressive because the… the former operator was… public operator wasn’t doing nearly that well. But you can’t pay yourself bonuses if you do well, right? So…
EASINGWOOD: Of course not.
BRUBAKER: It doesn’t work with in the public sector, but it works really well in the private sector.
EASINGWOOD: Sure. Who draws up the contract? And is that the capital regional district, the city, the province, the feds? How does that work?
BRUBAKER: I imagine that it would be a combination of the capital regional district and the help of Partnerships BC. But I don’t know that.
BRUBAKER: That would vary from place to place. Here in Ontario it would be a municipal responsibility. But we don’t have a body like Partnerships BC that has the kind of expertise available to assist the municipalities.
BRUBAKER: I assume that they would offer some assistance. I think that that is probably the most important thing that you can do, is to get a really good contract.
EASINGWOOD: What about the… the long-suffering taxpayer? And I’ve got more e-mail coming in on that as we’re speaking here this morning. The… the figure, 1.2 billion, is being kicked around. I’d like to know from you what you think we may get for that. And… and really, does that grow to become 2.4 billion, then five billion? And what about annual operating costs?
BRUBAKER: Well, I think that using a competitive bidding process and going with a private operator is one way to make sure you don’t have your costs balloon. Cost overruns of course are very, very common in public contracts.
EASINGWOOD: They sure are.
BRUBAKER: They… and… and again, you can write a contract saying any cost overruns are your [the private proponent’s] responsibility.
BRUBAKER: Meaning you, the contractor, the…
EASINGWOOD: And you can put time lines into your contract. You can put cost overrun provisions into your contract. I mean, you can… you can do it all. They often have a very strong incentive to stay under budget and on schedule. And that’s very, very important. So you can write that into the… into the contract. Now, as far as the poor, long-suffering contract… public, sorry.
EASINGWOOD: Yeah, the public that has to pay for it.
BRUBAKER: Yeah. I… I’m an environmentalist, and I don’t feel real sorry for people who complain that they have to pay to treat their sewage. I mean, I don’t think any of us has a right to pollute. And I think that to think that it’s OK to be discharging our poop untreated into the ocean is just… I think it’s quite immoral, actually.
EASINGWOOD: Well, what gives the…
BRUBAKER: (Inaudible) against the law. And I think that’s important to remember. I mean, we’ve got a federal Fisheries Act that says we may not deposit deleterious substances in water frequented by fish.
EASINGWOOD: Yeah. No, what… what… I totally agree, and I think most people would… would agree. We’ll find out here as we continue this morning. What really galls the taxpayer is when they’re quoted 1.2 billion — it can be for anything — and then that doubles or triples. We’ve got a situation in Vancouver now that’s just running wild. The provincial government are promising one thing, and it’s… it’s going to be a billion dollars instead of 300 million. That… you know, that sort of thing. That really galls the public.
BRUBAKER: Yeah. That’s right.
EASINGWOOD: So how… so what does the public need to… to do to make sure they’re not being led down the garden path, as we have been on other occasions? You know, they’ll quote 1.2 billion, but oh, sorry about that, in six months it’ll double. How… how do we handle that?
BRUBAKER: Well, that, as I say, is the advantage of having an enforceable contract. I mean, that’s where this whole package comes in. You look at, say, Moncton. I mentioned to you a moment ago that it had a privately financed water treatment plant built. Andit went to the private sector. It said we… we need a filtration plant. We can’t afford it.
BRUBAKER: And… and we can’t get any money from the province and we can’t get any money from the feds. So please can you help us? But you’re going to have to take all the risk. You’re going to have to put up the capital, you’re going to have to take the construction risks, you’re going to have to take the operating risk. We’re not willing to take those risks.
EASINGWOOD: Alright. I’m going to hold you there. Elizabeth Brubaker laying out some
pretty straight talk on waste water management this morning. Your calls are welcome here. E-mails
coming in. But if you want to join the discussion, you can do that at 386-1161 on CFAX 1070.
EASINGWOOD: Alright. Got an Elizabeth calling Elizabeth this morning. Elizabeth, go ahead in Saanich.
ELIZABETH (Caller): Yes. What Elizabeth isn’t telling us is that the water rates in the UK is about twice as high as they are here. The water rates are very, very high. So if we’re looking to, you know, help the taxpayer out, it’s not going to. You might not pay that much in water taxes, but you’re going to pay for the water service.
The other thing that is a very major difference between Canada and the UK is that the European Union has a very tough regulatory framework, and they enforce it. And we don’t in Canada. And you know, we saw what happened when the Campbell government came into power. They cut people in the environment industry. So even if we had regulations, we’d have to have the will to enforce it.
And what happens in the UK as well is that, water is divided into districts. So the right to service those districts is bought and sold, and it could be sold to a foreign country. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except that I think the municipality has a far greater interest in that municipality than a foreign-owned country.
EASINGWOOD: OK. No, there… there’s some interesting points brought up by Elizabeth. So Elizabeth Brubaker, what do you think?
BRUBAKER: Well, as far as water rates are concerned, I think that here in Canada our rates tend to be way too low. That’s hard for a consumer to hear, but the truth of the matter is that we aren’t charging enough to keep our systems up to spec.
And in fact, the estimate for BC is about $15 billion. We think that there’s about $15 billion that need to be spent in BC to clean up the water and the sewage problems. That is a huge amount of money. And part of that… that accumulated problem reflects low, low water rates. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing that water rates in the UK are higher than they are in Canada. I mentioned that the water companies had invested more than 50 billion pounds there. And of course water rates are going to have to reflect investments.
BRUBAKER: I think that reflects a problem in Canada rather than the UK. I think that we’re going to have to
understand that, if we want decent systems, we’re going to have to pay for them.
EASINGWOOD: Alright. On the e-mail from Ryan:
‘Before we jump to the conclusion that private contractors are a better deal, let’s consider that, if all goes
better than expected in the operation, the contractor pockets profits that could be in the public treasury. If
the contractor estimate’s too low, we are left with an unfulfilled contract and a bankrupt contractor.
Either way, we lose.‘
What do you say to Ryan?
BRUBAKER: Well, I don’t begrudge a contractor a profit, as long as we’re getting something for that profit. I don’t think we’re losing at all. We’ve found in other jurisdictions that usually the savings that come from competitive contracting are between, say, 20 and 45 percent. Those savings are more than enough to compensate for the process that the contractor is going to take home.
So,I don’t see us as losing because we have to pay somebody a profit. I think that… I think that you have to protect yourself against a bankrupt contractor. You… you have to make sure that there are provisions for that kind of an event, and…
EASINGWOOD: So in other words, you’ve got to protect yourself.
BRUBAKER: Have to protect yourself.
EASINGWOOD: To… to a degree.
BRUBAKER: And more importantly, you have to choose a contractor with a… with a good record, and one that’s likely to be in business.
EASINGWOOD: Three-eight-six-1161 on the CFAX 1070 news line.
EASINGWOOD: Remaining moments here with Elizabeth Brubaker from Environment Probe, water quality expert. The involvement of the private sector in water and waste water management through public-private partnerships. And your calls here. We’ll be going to open phones in about ten minutes. Madeleine, good morning.
MADELEINE (Caller): Good morning, Joe and guest.
MADELEINE: I’m going to be very emotional about this.
MADELEINE: Hands off.
MADELEINE: Hands off our water and our waste water and sewage. I’m on their website that says here
launched in 1989… oops. I just went blank. It launched in 1989. Environment Probe first focused on the opportunities in the Free Trade Agreement. The rest of that sentence is, ‘to improve environmental standards.’ Well, I’m sorry, but the idea is to make money, and that’s it. Private companies only want profit. That’s their raison d’etre. This nice, cheerful voice — and I’ve… I’ve written this down because I get confused. This nice, cheerful voice is misleading us. If we’re not happy with the public system, then make it better. If we can put untold billions into the Olympics, we can afford to look after our own water and sewage. So this is their foot in the door to gain control of our water. And if we see what’s happened to the price of gas, I can’t imagine what would happen to the price of water if it’s under control of private companies.
EASINGWOOD: Alright, Madeleine. Hang on there. I’ll let you continue. But Elizabeth, how do you make a fan out of Madeleine?
BRUBAKER: Well, it’s hard. It… as… as she said, it’s an emotional response. And it’s hard to deal with people’s emotions. I like to look at facts. I like to look at what’s happened elsewhere, and I like to sort of stay away from the emotional side of the debate. As far as… as far as control of water is concerned, that remains firmly in public hands.
These are publicly owned water and waste water utilities. What’s being contracted out is not the control of water; it’s… it’s the treatment of the water and the provision of the services: the cleaning of it, the piping and distributing of it, the collection of the sewage, the cleaning of that. The control of water remains in public hands. So there’s no need to get emotional about the loss of control of water. And as I say, with these with the enhancements of accountability that you can get through private sector involvement, you actually end up with greater control rather than less control.
EASINGWOOD: Are you convinced, Madeleine?
MADELEINE: No, I’m not, because I feel that if there is a problem, and I guess there probably is, that we should be after our government to handle these things instead of getting the private sector involved. I know the present government is going with P3s. Well, I’m not for them. As soon as you start getting a profit motive in there, things start to go slipshod. And I haven’t heard of any private water outfit that is doing better because of privatization — or any public doing better.
EASINGWOOD: So a final comment to you then, Elizabeth.
BRUBAKER: That’s… that’s actually very silly. You know, our…
MADELEINE: Oh, really?
EASINGWOOD: Well, hold on. What… what is silly?
BRUBAKER: Thinking that private operations will be slipshod operations and that public operations are somehow more trustworthy.
BRUBAKER: You look at the public operations that we’re familiar with: Walkerton, North Battleford, Kashechewan. I mean, public operations have often been terribly slipshod. Walkerton recently decided to hire a private operator for its system because it didn’t want a slipshod operation any… any longer. It wanted an expert, accountable operator.
I think that you look at the performance of governments around Canada and in British Columbia, and it’s just not very impressive. I mean, in Victoria you’re spewing your raw sewage. In Vancouver there are two sewage treatment plants that only get primary treatment. In BC you’ve got 500 boil water advisories in effect right now. I mean, where is the accountability in all of that? We say that our public sector is much beloved by us, but it’s not doing a very good job.
MADELEINE: Yes. Five hundred boil water advisories where? Are we talking about wells that might be contaminated by big business? Or what are we talking about. Five… I’m sure that we don’t have 500 cities to… with waste water treatment.
BRUBAKER: Five hundred… 500 communities in British Columbia, community systems, are now under a boil water advisory.
MADELEINE: Do you have a list of (inaudible)…
BRUBAKER: I got that information yesterday from the Ministry of Health So I’m sure they would give it to you too.
EASINGWOOD: The Ministry of Health in BC?
BRUBAKER: Ministry of Health in BC. They did not give me a list; they gave me a number.
BRUBAKER: It was…
MADELEINE: They’ve got some privatization themselves, the Ministry of Health, and we have not seen any improvements.
BRUBAKER: The number of current boil water advisories is approximately 500. That comes from the Ministry of Health yesterday. So I think it’s probably pretty accurate. I think we have to stop fooling ourselves. Our public water systems are not providing the kind of water we need. I mean, look at Vancouver‘s boil water advisory last fall. More than a… no, it was almost a million people were under advisory because their… because they didn’t have any water filtration. That’s inexcusable in a public system or a private system.
MADELEINE: Well, that means that we have to get after our local municipalities and provincial government to do a better job. And we can do that. We can get after them.
EASINGWOOD: Alright. Madeleine, I’ve got to move along. You had a good shot at it, and I do appreciate the call.
MADELEINE: OK. Bye-bye.
EASINGWOOD: Thank you. Pat, good morning. You’re on CFAX 1070.
PAT (Caller): Good morning, Joe.
PAT: I wish your guest was talking about Victoria. Boil water advisories are necessary in the interior probably of the province and of the continent. All these sewage treatment plants are probably necessary in Milwaukee and Hamilton. You get to Victoria, and we have the best treatment plant in the world, and there’s a lot of dispute about it, a lot of different opinions. We’ve got a trillion gallons of salt water that treat our sewage. And now we’re going to treat it on land. And hopefully it’s a biodegradable treatment business that doesn’t add more chlorine to the ocean. And we’re going to be left with a few trillion tonnes of sewage to dispose of some… on somebody’s landfill someplace.
So I wish your guest was talking about Victoria. And our water system is better, and we… it’s clean. And I wish I was paying gas prices that they pay in Edmonton, and I guess they wish they were paying water prices that we have in Victoria.
BRUBAKER: I don’t… I’m not casting aspersions on Victoria‘s water system. I was talking about British Columbia in general. I’m happy to cast aspersions on Victoria‘s waste water system. It is… it is a source of pollution. It is a source of embarrassment. It’s a source of international dispute. And it also violates the law. I think that… I think that to defend Victoria‘s pumping of raw sewage into the ocean is very difficult to do on all of those grounds — not just the environmental grounds, but the legal grounds.
PAT: Well, I guess we’re going to pay a billion dollars plus to avoid embarrassment and to keep a bunch of people happy that good, Victoria’s joined the crowd, and maybe — just maybe — it doesn’t need to. Thanks, Joe.
EASINGWOOD: OK. Thank you.. What do we get then — and more e-mail coming in — for the 1.2 billion? The… we’re still going to be left with poison in the system, heavy metals, that sort of thing, Elizabeth.
BRUBAKER: That’s right. And it’s very important to have sewer use control by-laws that… that prevent people from putting that kind of stuff in the… in the sewer system.
EASINGWOOD: So how do we do that and keep it to 1.2 billion, or whatever the final figure’s going to be?
BRUBAKER: It shouldn’t. Victoria can require companies not to put toxins into the sewers, and that’s not going to cost us anything extra at all.
BRUBAKER: That won’t increase the price of the treatment. I can see that the treatment price might go up if you decide to give… to give sewer overflows a full treatment. Right now I… what I was reading was that you’re planning secondary treatment for… for your dry weather flows, but…
EASINGWOOD: That… that’s correct.
BRUBAKER: …primary treatment for the wet weather (inaudible)…
BRUBAKER: And I can see that the province might demand that you give full treatment to all the flows.
EASINGWOOD: How much would that boost the 1.2 billion?
BRUBAKER: I don’t know what the costs would be.
BRUBAKER: But it would be an additional cost. And I don’t know how likely that is to happen. I know that we are getting stricter and stricter with our requirements as the years go on, as we learn more about how harmful sewage is, both to human health and to the environment.
EASINGWOOD: Yeah. I know you want to talk about the myth of public sector accountability, and we’ll do that with Elizabeth Brubaker. Lots of calls there at three — you can be part of it as well — 386-1161.
EASINGWOOD: Why you should know more about Elizabeth Brubaker from the Environment Probe organization, water policy expert, and how sewage treatment is going to be dealt with as it comes to Victoria. George, good morning.
GEORGE (Caller): Yeah, good morning, Elizabeth. Did you know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic treatment?
EASINGWOOD: Aerobic and anaerobic treatment, Elizabeth.
BRUBAKER: Well, one… one uses air.
EASINGWOOD: Well, what is the point you want to make, George?
GEORGE: Well, she mentioned about… well, I wanted to know if she knows the difference first. When she…
EASINGWOOD: Yeah, I think she… she knows the difference. What is the question? Well, it… the… the… the one that uses air, that’s the bad one.
GEORGE: Anaerobic is the one that uses bacteria. And that… and that’s what the engineers have been suppressing for the last 40 years till someone up… up island, who’s got this information, but it’s going to be suppressed again because the engineers are going to make the last decision. And the product that… the point that I’m trying to make is that waste treatment is not engineering problem; it’s a biological problem. And this formula he’s got can turn human waste into natural gas and electricity, and turn the… the actual waste into pure water.
EASINGWOOD: Have you heard that argument before, Elizabeth?
BRUBAKER: Well, there are a lot of different ways to treat sewage. And in fact, different communities use different mechanisms for sewage treatment. I think what we want to do is ensure an end result. I think what we can do is say this is how clean the effluent has to be. Right? This is the standard that you have to meet.
BRUBAKER: And… and I… I mean, I can’t comment on whether engineers have suppressed… have suppressed information about one kind of treatment or another. As I say, there are… there are different approaches used by different communities. I’m not in any position to say which approach Victoria should follow.
BRUBAKER: What I think you should do is give the bidders a result that they have to achieve.
EASINGWOOD: There’s no lack of conspiracy theories when we get into discussions like this. I guess you’ve found that elsewhere.
BRUBAKER: Yes, yes.
EASINGWOOD: OK. Thank you, George. Here’s Annette. Are you there, Annette? You want to check line two. Let’s go to Mady (ph).
MADY (ph) (Caller): Good morning. She mentioned that 500 water boiling advisory. The fact is that those community water system do not have any management. They are natural water system. They are being naturally cleaned by the nature. And the reason we have those is… is not because mismanagement; it’s because of the… allowing logging and mining in those area. That’s why we have boil water advisory. It has nothing to do with public system.
Second issue is that the countries that allow privatization — like Bolivia, like England — the water system, the… the management never… never improve. The prices skyrocketed. And the only thing happen, they… they… this corporation got a lots of profit. So what’s… what she’s advocating is just… she’s a mouthpiece for the corporations to take over public asset and make profit.
EASINGWOOD: Are you the mouthpiece there, Elizabeth?
BRUBAKER: Am I who?
EASINGWOOD: A mouthpiece for the corporations.
BRUBAKER: Not a mouthpiece for the corporations. In fact, corporations often don’t like me because I keep insisting that regulations should be enforced more… more vigorously. I’m… I’m just as critical of a corporate polluter as I am of a public polluter. So I can hardly think of myself as a mouthpiece.
EASINGWOOD: OK. Mady, thanks very much for the call. If you’re trying to get through up to this point in the program, you’re probably getting a busy signal. The lines were jammed. But I have some open lines now at 368-1161, star-1070, a free call on your cell phone. Some e-mail here. Wondering… well, we haven’t talked about this. What are the implications of trade agreements, Elizabeth?
BRUBAKER: Well, trade agreements have been a big… a big issue in some decisions in British Columbia in recent years. I think that it’s a red herring. I’ve read the arguments on both sides quite carefully, and I think that the most persuasive argument I read came from a report that was prepared in 2003 by a guy named Robert Patterson (ph).
BRUBAKER: Now, he was the Associate Dean and a professor of law at the University of British Columbia, and he also wrote a book on the international trade and investment law. So he knew this issue inside and out. And he said basically that, with a good contract in place, municipalities don’t have anything to fear from trade agreements. Again, he stressed the importance of carefully worded contracts. He said you’ve got to include contingencies, especially things like changes in regulation and termination, and you’ve got to specify in the contract when the contractor’s entitled to compensation and when it isn’t.
BRUBAKER: If the contract spells all of that out, then the concerns about NAFTA are greatly diminished.
BRUBAKER: So I think that he was very persuasive. I think that, because it’s a relatively unknown, untested area, it’s been quite easy to play on people’s fears about trade agreements.
EASINGWOOD: Yeah. It’s a favourite topic of many of the… of the fear mongering element.
BRUBAKER: That’s right. It is. And you know, the problem is, with a lot of these things, say with private operations, we can point to dozens of examples of successful operations.
BRUBAKER: It’s really easy to shoot down the arguments on the other side. With trade agreements, it’s a little bit harder because we haven’t had the challenges yet to… to test them. But… so it’s a little bit more… it’s a little bit more speculative. And there’s arguments made on both sides, and they’re made by lawyers on both sides, and you know, we’re not lawyers, what do we know?
BRUBAKER: But as I say, I think that this… I think this report by Patterson convinced me that a good contract was… was a very good protection against a trade agreement challenge.
EASINGWOOD: How much has organized labour got to do with opposition to what you’re talking about?
BRUBAKER: Oh, it’s got a lot to do with the opposition. I think CUPE has done a marvellous job of spearheading opposition in British Columbia, and in some other jurisdictions as well. And… and that’s understandable because… because labour unions do stand to lose some power. These private agreements often include protections for individual workers but not for the trade unions.
BRUBAKER: So the individual workers might be able to retain their jobs….perhaps the companies will only achieve reductions in workforces through attrition or through voluntary retirement or other mechanisms that protect the individual. But the fact is that they often are able to use smaller workforces. They pose a threat to unions because of that. Now, many of the private operators work with unionized employees, but that doesn’t mean they work with as many unionized employees as they might if they were… if they were public operators.
EASINGWOOD: Where does there basic argument fall apart?
BRUBAKER: Well, I think it falls apart everywhere. It tells us that the public sector is dependable, and we know that it isn’t. And it tells us that the private sector is this bogeyman that we know from extensive experience isn’t the case either. And I really don’t [think] their arguments hold water at all. But I understand where they’re coming from, and I appreciate how effectively they make them. I mean, CUPE is extremely well organized.
EASINGWOOD: Yeah, CUPE in this province — the Canadian Union of Public Employees — have always been well organized, and not frightened to move ahead.
BRUBAKER: No, no. Hmm-mm. And they’ve got a lot of money to put into their campaigns, and… I’m very envious of that. (Laughs)…
BRUBAKER: If I had that kind of money, I could… I could make very powerful arguments in the in the press and in the advertisements, just as they do.
EASINGWOOD: Sure. I want you to talk about what is going to cinch the deal in Victoria, get your perspective on that. Also, the myth of public sector accountability, and more calls here in our final few moments with Elizabeth
Brubaker from Environment Probe on CFAX 1070.
EASINGWOOD: A number of faxes here for you, Elizabeth. Are you an American, they want to know.
BRUBAKER: I was born in the United States. I moved to Canada in 1976.
EASINGWOOD: So you’ve been here for a while.
BRUBAKER: I’ve been here for a long time, and I’m a Canadian citizen. And… and one of the reasons I came to Canada because I love this great, clean expanses and I want to keep them that way.
EASINGWOOD: I just want to take a moment here before we run out of time. You’ll be speaking next Wednesday, May second, at a Chamber of Commerce function at the Harbour Towers Hotel in downtown Victoria at 11:30, I believe, the festivities get underway next Wednesday.
BRUBAKER: That’s right.
EASINGWOOD: OK. Now, the myth of public sector accountability.
BRUBAKER: Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of those issues in the last hour. We’ve seen callers, or we’ve heard callers, and read in which people say you’ve got to keep it public. This is an emotional issue. We’re attached to our public services, etcetera. I think that we’ve got to help people understand that public accountability is… it really is a myth; that it’s not in place; that the status quo is not working; that our governments are failing us; and that there are some opportunities to solve these problems.
EASINGWOOD: OK. I’ve got another quick e-mail here, and about 30 seconds left.
EASINGWOOD: People wanting to know… they say you… you sound too much like a spokesperson for the private sector and the privatization of water. What… which organization is funding you?
BRUBAKER: Well, I… I have been funded mostly by small donations from our supporters.
BRUBAKER: And I’ve gotten some… some money in the past from, say, the government for participating in the Walkerton Inquiry. Epcor is sponsoring my… my talk in Victoria. That’s the first time I’ve ever been… I’ve ever been sponsored, I think, by a water company. All of this work was done because of my concern as a… as an environmentalist.
EASINGWOOD: Alright. That’s where we’ve got to leave it this morning. A fascinating hour with you, Elizabeth. You came just for a few minutes, but I think people are probably a little more informed now than an hour ago, let’s put it that way.
BRUBAKER: Well, it’s been a pleasure.
EASINGWOOD: Thank you so much, and good luck on your trip here next week.
BRUBAKER: Thanks so much.
— ENDS —