Safety risks looming with the privatization of heating-cooling plants in the National Capital Region, says economist

In partnership with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, economist Robin Shaban has released a report on the government’s planned privatization of a major heating-cooling plants in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Robin Shaban is an economist based in Ottawa and is the principal of Robin Shaban Consulting. Her work touches on a variety of subject areas, including privatization, corporate regulation, taxation, and worker precarity. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Public Policy at Carleton University.

The report highlights the health and safety risk to over 50,000 workers who are physically connected to the plants on a daily basis, as well as those who are responsible for their operation.

Shaban’s report assesses the Energy Services Acquisition Program (ESAP), a proposed private-public partnership for the operation and management of five heating-cooling plants in the NCR. The objective was to analyze the Program’s business case and any other financial forecasts undertaken by the government related to the Program.

Despite attempts to access greater information, the government refused, significantly delayed or provided redacted responses to repeated requests. Shaban therefore supplemented her research with a series of interviews with workers of those plants to draw on their expertise and knowledge and help us assess the viability and desirability of the ESAP. In her report, she addresses the many serious concerns raised by the workers, and the absence of information by the government.

“What we learned from those working in the plants is that operating heating and cooling systems can be very dangerous work and it’s genuinely terrifying when things go wrong,” said Shaban.  “To move from public sector workers whose main motivation is public safety, to a private contractor with a profit incentive is very worrisome and potentially reckless.”

“This program raises many significant questions. What will it mean for the environment, for costs, security, and safety for the projected 30 years of private operation? We only need to look to the fatal explosion of 2009, that occurred after an improperly certified private contractor was servicing boilers, to recognize the need for caution in this circumstance. The government should at least press pause and answer the questions.” said PSAC-NCR Regional Executive Vice-President Greg McGillis.



May 21, 2019