Edmonton city council needs to help EPCOR promote emerging business opportunities

An update from Canada’s Auditor General pointed out that First Nations communities will face the prospect of not having safe drinking water for several years.

Ninety-nine drinking water advisories have been lifted since 2015, however 57 remain in effect said the auditor’s report released February 25.

That comes on the heels of September’s federal Speech from the Throne, which also reestablished a revenue opportunity for the City of Edmonton that could benefit taxpayers.

The political roadmap unveiled in Ottawa over the past year has made promises to First Nations communities. The “Speech from the Throne contained several commitments that involve and affect First Nations,” National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a news release from the Assembly of First Nations, “including the promise to work jointly with First Nations on legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; continuing work on safe drinking water and eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories.”

Ottawa has been talking about this for a long time

Bellegarde later took to Twitter to press the point. “In the 2019 & 2020 Speech From the Throne, there were commitments to end First Nations' boil water advisories in 2021, but with just months to go, Canada may miss the mark. I urge Canada to update First Nations on when they can expect clean water.”

A similar pledge was made in the fiscal update by Finance Minister Christia Freeland on November 30. This after it was mentioned an infusion of $1.5 Billion was needed before the spring. 

EPCOR revenue means city council is less reliant on your property taxes

That’s where EPCOR comes in. EPCOR was started as Canada’s first municipally owned electric and water utility. Today, the City of Edmonton is EPCOR’s sole shareholder that operates as a commercial entity. Currently EPCOR serves over two million customers, and they’re pretty good on the clean water file, as a Canadian leader in the industry.

I first wrote about this in 2017 when EPCOR’s Vice President of commercial services confirmed they were exploring business models to present to individual First Nations.

EPCOR already provides treated water through the Edmonton regional system to Enoch Cree Nation, and are expanding distribution to the Paul First Nation and Alexis Nakota Sioux.

At the time EPCOR said they’d be approaching this as a partnership and not from a top down perspective.

There are plenty of potential contracts to be had

EPCOR has already made some progress to expand the water and wastewater file back east. They along with Edmonton’s PCL Construction teamed up in March with Ontario Power Generation and Enterprise Canada Inc. for a series of community based projects north of Thunder Bay with the Matawa First Nations. 

They’re also in discussions to expand service contracts with several First Nations after initial facilities and plants are constructed. 

Edmonton city council needs to work to help EPCOR expand its business opportunities, because of the revenue stream to the city’s bottom line, more now than ever before to help pay for amenities and programs in Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. 

This could also be a natural partnership at a time when the federal government is looking to affirm its platform and policy commitments to First Nations. 

As part of the City Hall budget, a dividend is paid from EPCOR’s operations. In 2020 it was worth $171 million. Without that revenue, taxpayers would be facing a 10 per cent increase, to make up the difference.

The City of Edmonton needs to be innovative and look to 21st century solutions to not only grow revenues in unique ways, but to also to follow through on initiatives, including to “build and support good relations between the City, Indigenous people and organizations that serve Indigenous people.”

Additional partnerships between EPCOR and First Nations communities would be of mutual benefit and serve both financial and health needs. 

 


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Scott Johnston for Edmonton City Council