Not only is the NDP the only party willing to tell voters where it stands on privatization, it is the only party willing to put an end to this wasteful and inefficient practice.
That's why the NDP gets an "A" on the We Own It Report Card — all the other parties get an incomplete. But looking at things their leaders have said over the past several months gives us a sense of where they actually stand on the issue:
Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford said during a Conservative leadership debate that he will "leave no stone unturned" looking for privatization opportunities. He has also said he believes the "market" should dictate where and when alcohol is sold.
Likewise, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne has given no indication that she would be in favour of rolling back the privatization of Hydro One or the use of costly P3s to build new hospitals and highways.
The Conservatives and Liberal track records are also telling.
The Progressive Conservative governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves were open and enthusiastic proponents of privatization. Among other things, they privatized:
- Highway maintenance: Privatization of maintenance of 400-series highways started in 1996, leading immediately to higher costs and lower safety.
- Walkerton: After seven were killed and 2,300 sickened in Walkerton, a public inquiry drew a direct link between the closing of government lab services and the use of private labs instead.
- Meat inspection: With the privatization of meat inspection, a second health disaster was only narrowly avoided. By contracting out almost all meat inspection, the Conservatives gave private inspectors a strong incentive NOT to flag problems — if a meat plant was closed, they'd lose work. Luckily, nobody was hurt before The Aylmer meat scandal of 2003 drew attention to this dangerous situation.
- Medical lab testing: Forcing public hospitals to contract out medical lab testing has led to slower service and higher costs — up to 40 per cent higher costs in many instances.
- Highway 407: Not only was it sold to a Spain-based multinational corporation for almost $5 billion less than it was actually worth, the Harris Conservatives also gave up any public control over tolls and revenue from those tolls. In other words, tolls go up while we lose out on hundreds of millions a year in potential revenues.
The Liberal governments that followed Harris and Eves might not have been as publicly open to privatization, but they continued using it.
- LCBO: The Liberals picked up where the Conservatives left off when it comes to alcohol sales. The McGuinty Liberals expanded the use of private "agency stores" across the province, and then the Wynne Liberals further privatized alcohol sales by allowing grocery corporations to sell beer and wine. The greater alcohol access that comes with these kinds of privatization leads to more health problems in our communities.
- P3s: For more than a decade, the Liberals financed almost every large government construction project — from hospitals to highways — using "public-private partnerships" or "P3s." In 2015, the Auditor-General looked back at that decade of P3s and found that the public had been overcharged by more than $8 billion by the private "partners."
- Hydro One: Despite overwhelming public opposition, the Liberals have sold off the majority of Hydro One. The Financial Accountability Officer has found that it will cost us up to $300 million a year in lost revenue. And the Auditor-General has found that a scheme to forestall the rate hikes caused by privatization will cost us another $4 billion. Adding insult to injury, the now-privatized CEO of Hydro One has given himself a raise of nearly 500 per cent — last year, he made more than $6 million.
Costly. Dangerous. Less accountable and transparent.
These are the lessons we've learned about privatization over the past two decades. And they are lessons the NDP appears to have learned. In the responses to our candidate survey, individual NDP candidates — along with the party's central HQ — have expressed a strong commitment to keeping our public services public.
A couple of notable responses:
- On the question of whether privatization has been generally successful, Scarborough Southwest NDP candidate Doly Begum said: "Not at all, in fact, it's been the opposite. I managed the "Keep Hydro Public" Campaign across Ontario and have seen this first hand."
- On the question "what's the first thing that comes to mind about privatization," Orleans NDP candidate Barbara Zarboni said: "Oh come on, only one choice? Unaccountable, service & safety cuts, higher costs. What about lower wages without benefits for employees?"
- We asked the candidates to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 the success of various privatizations. 5 is completely successful and 1 is completely unsuccessful. Ottawa Vanier NDP candidate Lyra Evans rated P3s "minus 1".
To see a round-up of all the responses, click here.