Rally sends a message to Wynne, Trudeau

Ontario residents take a stand against privatization creep

Ontarians concerned about government plans to privatize everything from bridges and highways to hydro and hospitals have sent a clear message to Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne: Keep them public.

Trudeau and Wynne met with a group of wealthy private investors on Nov. 14 to discuss who will control, pay for and profit from Canada’s and Ontario’s next big public infrastructure projects. The purpose of both meetings was the same – to discuss public-private partnerships (P3s). In a typical P3 project, the government pays a private sector group to build, finance, and operate everything from transit lines and schools to nursing homes and hospitals, sometimes over decades. In some cases, the private business then runs the new public infrastructure as a for-profit business.

Members of the public were not invited to either of those closed-door meetings — so they held their own public meeting across the street, along with community groups, labour union representatives, and local politicians.

Private partnerships “high risk” and “costly”

While Trudeau and Wynne’s backroom meetings were trying to attract more investment in P3 deals in Canada, the sentiment across the street was very different. Members of the public were skeptical of P3s, concerns that have been echoed by Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, who has called P3s “high risk” and “costly,” and raised red flags about their lack of transparency. In a 2014 report, she estimated that Ontarians had been overcharged by $8 billion for infrastructure projects that involved private partners.

Speakers at the public meeting  included Sean Smith of the Toronto Airport Workers Council, who raised concerns about how privatization will affect cost and safety for air travelers, and a single mother from Windsor who shared her emotional struggle as soaring hydro rates force her to choose between feeding her kids and heating their home.

Polls show Ontarians oppose privatization

new poll shows most Ontarians want the government to stay away from public-private partnerships. The Ipsos poll conducted for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) showed that 75 per cent of Ontarians oppose turning public assets like highways, bridges and hospitals into profit centres.

“These private, closed-door meetings are about setting an agenda for our province and our country, one that will make money for a few wealthy folks while leaving the rest of us behind,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas at the event. “The good news is that people are starting to wake up to what’s going on, and starting to question why we’re handing over our public wealth to private corporations.”

Examples of P3 failure

Ontario has a long history of failure with P3s. A 2008 report by the auditor general, for instance, revealed that a P3 deal to build Brampton Civic Hospital cost the public $200 million more than it would have if the province had financed the project itself. Another report, released in 2014, cited examples that included buildings that cost 10 per cent more per square foot than publicly built facilities.

Gatherings like the Nov. 14 rally are an important avenue for the public to raise their voices to demand that the government stop the sale of publicly owned assets to profit-seeking private corporations. And the message from the public was clear: These are our public assets. This is our province. We should have a say in its future.