Friday, January 09, 2009

Ah, the province of Saskatchewan, Molly's birthplace and old stomping grounds. Once the "golden socialist utopia" of North America, the old social base of the CCF-NDP, the small farmer, has been eroded practically to the point of vanishing. Nowadays the province is ruled by the neo-conservative Saskatchewan Party, and, like all such outfits they are plotting to privatize large portions of the public economy via the setups known as P3s, "public private partnerships".
Not that Molly would have great objections to "de-stating" the public services, provided that the new entities were self managed producers' cooperatives. That, however, hasn't been on the agenda of any government that has undertook privatization anywhere in the world. The Saskatchewan party is moving cautiously, one might even say by stealth, to open up the public coffers to their business friends. Like cats licking their lips at a horde of mice, I'm sure that there are numerous entrepreneurs waiting to get their hands on their reward for supporting their political friends. Here's the story from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, via the Public Values website.
Gov't explores public-private partnerships:
New secretariat to evaluate proposals:
By James Wood,
The StarPhoenix

The Saskatchewan Party government is setting up a secretariat to explore the possibility of private sector companies being involved in large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads, schools and health-care facilities.

But while infrastructure dollars are slated to flow from the provincial and federal governments as part of an economic stimulus package, Government Services Minister Dan D'Autremont said the province will proceed slowly when it comes to the public-private partnerships dubbed P3s.

"All of the advice we have received is, 'do not rush,' that you need to have a very clear understanding of what you're looking for and what it is that's being offered and not to be precipitous," the minister said in an interview Tuesday.

At its last meeting two weeks ago, cabinet moved associate deputy minister Mike Shaw from health to government services as the head and first employee of the new P3 secretariat.

The cross-ministerial body will develop the criteria for judging private sector proposals and will have the final say, except for cabinet, on the projects.

The government has set $25 million as the minimum cost of projects for which private sector involvement will be considered, he said.

The Sask. Party government committed $1 billion in this year's budget for infrastructure and has pledged $1.5 billion for the year ahead. Premier Brad Wall recently told reporters the government may accelerate spending as part of stimulus measures, with some of next year's planned dollars potentially being booked into this budget year.

That would also help balance the 2009-10 budget without the government having to dip into reserves.

D'Autremont said he thinks private sector involvement in that sped-up spending would be unlikely, especially since much of it may end up done in partnership with the federal government.

"What they're looking for is projects that are basically close to being ready to go, that they could start on in the near term and P3s in this province would certainly not qualify for that," he said.

P3s have been controversial in any case. The Saskatoon Public School Division's recent musings about the possibility of a company building, owning and operating a school and leasing it back to the division in the Willowgrove neighbourhood drew fire from the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Tom Graham, president of the union in Saskatchewan, said CUPE was heartened to learn from a recent freedom of information request that only two school divisions --
Saskatoon's public and Lloydminster's Roman Catholic -- had expressed interest to the government in P3s.

But he said in a recent interview he's concerned about any dalliance with public-private partnerships. While they are potentially a threat to union members' jobs, the bigger issue is that they are more expensive.

"Someone dreamed them up as a good way to make money for a private company but it's not a good way to provide a public service. It costs more. . . . They just don't really pass the test," said Graham.

A poll, commissioned by CUPE Saskatchewan last month, found 73 per cent of respondents believed facilities such as schools and hospitals should be publicly owned and controlled.

D'Autremont said P3s have a mixed record. British Columbia, which has been in the lead when it comes to such projects in Canada, has seen long-term savings and quality from the public-private Sea-to-Sky Highway, he said.

A P3 school in Nova Scotia, however, failed to meet expectations, said D'Autremont.
The minister said that there are various models for P3s, although the most common would probably see a private company design and build a facility and then charge rent.

With the government services themselves carrying on as normal, there would be no displacement of unionized workers under such a model, he said,

D'Autremont said another use of P3s that would be potentially controversial -- toll roads -- won't happen in Saskatchewan because they simply wouldn't work even if someone wanted to do it.

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