Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On private decisions

Via Rabble, CUPE comments on both the problems with P3s in general, and the National Post's refusal to allow anybody who supports public ownership of public goods to balance out its own pro-P3 stance:
The subject of P3s has garnered increasing media attention in the past few years as more and more projects are pursued and as various concerns mount from all sides. All the while, CUPE has been identified as the country’s most prominent and credible opponent of P3s, by any standard. Yet our voice – and those of countless other P3 critics – is absent from the discourse currently perpetuated by the National Post.

The new justification for P3s is that they transfer risk from the public to the private sector which is the better risk manager, they say. P3 promoters use even more financial chicanery to justify this argument, but downplay the need for public bailouts when P3s fail. The UK government's $4 billion bailout after the Metronet P3 failure should be cause for alarm, but has been all but ignored here in Canada, like so many homegrown P3 failures. Besides, the recent sub-prime financial meltdown and the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper scandal demonstrate just how little faith we should have in the superiority of the private sector’s risk management.

P3s pose a threat to public services – no wonder the private sector is all over them.

But never mind that for now. Mind that any challenge of P3s was curiously kept from the National Post’s ‘report’ – perhaps because when we come after P3s, we come with the very facts the privatization lobby prefers to ignore.
It's worth remembering that it isn't only in the media that any sense of balance is currently lacking. Indeed, the Harper Cons' 2007 budget included over a billion dollars worth of funding specifically targeted for P3s, along with a requirement that other levels of government pay homage to the P3 concept before receiving a penny of federal infrastructure money.

From that starting point, it figures to be an uphill battle to point out the obvious problems associated with P3s - particularly when major media outlets are actively shutting out one side of the debate. But with the effectiveness of public services at stake, there's still a substantial need to raise awareness of the issue. And with luck, enough public reminders as to the importance of publicly-owned services will force even the likes of CanWest to acknowledge the serious pitfalls associated with a push toward P3s.

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