Pallister’s P3 schools plan lacks transparency, accountability

Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced the construction of four new schools in Manitoba to be designed, built, financed and maintained through a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model.

“Pallister isn’t telling the whole story when he tries to pitch P3s to Manitobans,” says Kelly Moist, President of CUPE Manitoba. “P3s in other jurisdictions have cost more in the long-run, with less accountability over taxpayers’ dollars.”

The Auditor General of both Nova Scotia and Alberta have raised serious concerns with the use of P3s in education in those two provinces, citing excessive costs, failure to meet contract requirements, lack of transparency, and insufficient proof that the projects provided value for money.

“There is an over twenty-year history of P3 schools in Canada. P3 schools are not new, are not innovative, and have not been successful,” said Moist. “Premier Pallister should learn from the mistakes of Nova Scotia and Alberta and stay clear of this disastrous policy.”

“Pallister’s plan to introduce a finance-maintain P3 model doesn’t make financial sense, as government can borrow at lower interest rates than private companies,” said Moist. “P3s will also cut corners to save money for themselves at the expense of the infrastructure they are conveniently paid to maintain.”

P3 schools under this model can be trapped in 30‑year maintenance contracts with private conglomerates making it difficult for schools themselves to operate efficiently. These contracts are often hidden from the public as “proprietary” property of private companies.

Pallister’s plan also includes hiring “an advisor” to determine whether building design‑build‑finance P3 schools will be more cost‑effective than the traditional design‑build model. However, whether the public will have any way to review the advice provided by this “advisor”, or whether this “advisor” will be an independent third‑party is yet to be seen.

The Pallister government recently introduced legislation to repeal the province’s P3 Accountability and Transparency legislation, claiming it was “red tape” for private corporations to access public dollars. Aspects of this legislation include the requirement for an independent, arms‑length body to perform a publicly reviewable value for money review.

“If the Pallister government truly supported a value for money review, and believed in transparency and accountability as he campaigned upon, he would not be moving ahead to scrap the P3 Accountability and Transparency legislation,” said Moist. “If ever there was a time for robust legislation around P3’s, it would be when the province is considering greater reliance on the P3 model.”

“We believe every taxpayer’s dollar that this government spends should be transparent and accountable,” said Moist. “Scrapping P3 transparency legislation and then building four P3s makes it pretty clear that Pallister is in this for business interests rather than public interests.”

Source: CUPE National