Toward Greater Transparency in Water and Sewer Services in Winnipeg: It’s time to separate infrastructure from politics

Publication, Crown Corporations, Will Randall

Executive Summary

Winnipeg City Council proposes a new water-management model for the city. The model creates a municipal corporation owned by the City to deliver water and waste services. The model would include a private partner in delivering waste services, not water, to Winnipeggers.

The public-private partnership is an effective water-management model. Consider the following examples:
  • France turned to the private sector for water infrastructure, and satisfaction with water management is high in that country. Ninety per cent of cities that enter a public-private partnership continue the partnership at contract renewal time.
  • Government regulation protects water quality. French law operates a user-pay model for water utilities. Ratepayers rather than general taxpayers fund water services in France, and water rates are competitive with other European cities. Leakage, which is the amount of water lost in the pipes before delivery, is lower in Paris than in other European cities with water systems of a similar age.
  • Kingston, Ontario, uses a model akin to the one proposed for Winnipeg. Kingston once managed its water utilities as a City department. In 1998, it formed a wholly owned municipal corporation, Utilities Kingston, to act as the water utility. Utilities Kingston has provided the city with cost-effective services while upgrading infrastructure.
  • Adelaide, South Australia, retained government ownership of water and sewer infrastructure but contracted the operation of the system to a private firm, which resulted in cost savings.
The benefits of a new water management model are increased transparency, longterm funding for needed infrastructure improvements in a non-political, nonpartisan manner, and cost-effectiveness and environmental protection based upon smart usage and smart planning. The Manitoba Public Utilities Board would regulate the proposed corporation’s rates in a more transparent process than does the current model. Such rates should encourage the environmentally sustainable use of water, and, overall, a move to such a system in Winnipeg would result in greater transparency, increased cost effectiveness and a more environmentally sustainable water system.