Wait! It’s not a transit plan?

The Region of Waterloo, Canada, where I live, is planning to build a contentious light rail transit plan. Actually it isn’t so much a plan as a straight run that links two shopping malls and passes through the downtown core, where there really isn’t much business.

They keep talking like that anyway, but it’s really all about downtown development and increasing property tax revenues. Even the local paper makes it clear:

Council approved the controversial $818-million rail transit system last June. It’s a redevelopment plan to draw homes and jobs to central neighbourhoods. Residents will see electric trains on the streets of Kitchener and Waterloo by 2017 and enhanced buses in Cambridge by 2014. (emphasis mine)

But the big fight now is about who will run the thing. Local politicians have decided it should be a private company. Of course some people, as well as unions predictably, have a problem with this, demanding that it remain in public hands. As Peter Shawn Taylor notes, they seem to be aiming for the worst possible situation:

As clever as this may be, however, the staff report then appears to undo all these benefits. To ensure labour peace, it suggests the region unilaterally set wage rates for private operators and/or allow labour rates to be passed directly on to taxpayers as what it calls a “flow though cost.” This presents the worst of all possible worlds. Private sector contractors would have no incentive to keep wages low and the region would be on the hook for ever-rising labour costs.

Kevin Thomason also notes that:

“We need a world-class system here in Waterloo, not the cheapest system possible.”

While I have no idea what a world class system means – and by the way we’re talking about a community of 500,000 people here, not some huge metropolis – I would put money on that fact that no matter what, we won’t be getting the cheapest anything.

But back to the private versus public question again. Apparently there is a report that shows that a private partner is much better. You’ll just have to trust them though because the report is secret:

A regional report says an expert partner will save taxpayers 18 per cent over 33 years while reducing taxpayer risks by 62 per cent. That’s based on a secret value-for-money audit that regional government refuses to release, saying it belongs to the consultant who wrote it.

I assume the region paid the consultant for the report, but it belongs to the consultant. Years in business and that’s the first time I heard that one. I wonder if the councillors even got to read it? And we may never know what is in the contract either:

Regional chief administrator Mike Murray warned that parts of a transit contract may also be kept secret, saying this could include confidential information supplied to regional government by a partner.

So basically, this is what passes for political leadership where I live:

Trust us.

Yup. Can’t see a problem with that at all. Because they’ve been so upfront so far.