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LETTER: Reader opines why some public institutions should never fall into private hands

'Despite the vital role of the private sector, essential services such as LTC, health care, child care, electricity, and education must remain not-for-profit and under public control,' says Reinio
2020-12-09 Pekka Reinio
Pekka Reinio is shown in a supplied photo.

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is from former NDP candidate Pekka Reinio about the privatization of certain institutions. 

Over the past four decades, governments at all levels have been eager to privatize many of our prized institutions. Decisions on privatization are often short-sighted cash grabs that end up benefiting private corporations and investors, not regular Canadians.

One relevant example is the privatization of Connaught Labs, which occurred under Brian Mulroney’s government in the 1980s. This is particularly poignant today since Canadians must now rely on other countries for the production of a COVID vaccine. Our government is supposed to work for Canadians, not put the interests of private corporations above those of our citizens. 

The privatization of long-term care (LTC) homes has been disastrous for the well-being and safety of our seniors. Throughout the COVID pandemic, over 2,000 seniors in Ontario have perished, mostly in private LTC facilities.

This year alone, these same private LTC operators have paid out millions to shareholders. 

As NDP MPP Taras Natyshak laments: “For years, both Liberal and Conservative governments have opened the floodgates to private, for-profit corporations to enrich themselves on what should be sacred, publicly owned and delivered services. It’s grotesque. They should remember why they were elected: to serve the public and not corporate interests.”

At the provincial level, the Mike Harris Conservatives privatized Highway 407 — which was built with public money — then sold it for a fraction of its actual value. Today, it continues to be a cash cow for its foreign owners. Our tax dollars were used to build a highway to the benefit of private corporations. Today, regular Canadians pay a steep price for each trip along the 407, despite assurances made that prices would remain affordable.

The Liberals have also embraced privatization as a way to boost revenues, albeit, temporarily. In 2015, the Kathleen Wynne Liberals sold off a large chunk of Hydro One. This sell-off has hit homeowners and businesses with ever-increasing electricity bills while the Hydro One CEO, executives and shareholders benefit at our expense.

Over the last 20 years in Ontario, Conservative and Liberal private/public partnerships (P3) with Carillion Canada for winter highway maintenance and hospital construction both proved to be epic failures. The Carillion hospital in Brampton cost taxpayers half a billion dollars in overruns. Bonnie Lysyk, the auditor general of Ontario, reported that hospitals were gouged by contractors for maintenance work not covered under the original contracts. Several hospitals were in long-term disputes with maintenance companies over these contracts, many of which can last decades.

In regards to Ontario highway winter maintenance work, Carillion abandoned snow-plowing contracts after public complaints about the poor quality of their work. In 2015, the auditor general concluded that private contracts with Carrillion resulted in “lower levels of winter highway maintenance.” Carillion was fined nearly $1 million. 

As Smokey Thomas, OPSEU president, wrote at the time: “This is a clear sign that privatization doesn’t work. It’s ineffective. It’s over-priced. And as we’re learning today, it’s totally unreliable.”

Privatization continues at all levels of government. Under the direction of Bill Morneau, the federal Liberals unveiled the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a vehicle for private-sector investment in Canadian infrastructure projects. While some may argue that this public-private partnership may make projects more affordable, it effectively enables risk to be transferred to the public, while the ownership and profits are transferred to private interests. We need to intervene now so that ordinary Canadians do not get burned again.

It’s clear that the private sector plays an important role in our communities. The COVID pandemic has served a painful reminder to us all about how much we depend on our local small businesses. But, despite the vital role of the private sector, essential services such as LTC, health care, child care, electricity, and education must remain not-for-profit and under public control so that all Ontarians can benefit. 

Pekka Reinio