CUPE logo links to home page

Unions connect to fight California P3s

Jan 29, 2008 03:11 PM
 

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled plans to privatize roads, schools and water systems, using Canadian experiences with P3s to make his case. CUPE has connected with a California union to help expose and oppose this new push to privatize.

Schwarzenegger's recent state of the state address singled out British Columbia’s use of P3s, even though there’s ample evidence privatization hasn’t worked in the province.

Despite the well-documented problems with P3s in BC, Schwarzenegger told the state legislature that “in British Columbia, public/private partnerships are common for building highways, bridges, rapid transit, water treatment and so on, and everyone is happy.  The political leaders are happy, business is happy, the public is happy, the economy is happy, the future is happy.”  

The privateers’ own polls don’t support Schwarzenegger’s ‘happy, happy, happy’ claims. The latest nationwide survey done for the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships shows that support for P3s is weakest – and declining – in British Columbia, the province with the most extensive P3 experience

In his speech, Schwarzenegger repeated the BC government’s claims that P3s have delivered infrastructure “faster, better and cheaper.” BC Premier Gordon Campbell was quick to reinforce the mutual policy admiration, applauding the governor’s plans.

Mirroring the governor and premier’s alliance, SEIU 1000 has connected with CUPE. The two unions are sharing research and analysis to expose and oppose the governor’s P3 agenda. SEIU 1000 staff and other union activists have already unearthed some of the problems with Canadian P3s: secrecy and lack of accountability as well as shoddy analysis and inflation of public sector costs by P3 agencies.

Elsewhere, Schwarzenegger and his administration have praised and promoted Ontario’s use of P3s. Dalton McGuinty has not responded in kind, preferring to maintain the fiction that his government’s Alternative Financing and Procurement schemes aren’t P3s.

The California media didn’t have to dig far to uncover the truth about P3s in BC and elsewhere. Canadian P3 critics, including CUPE national president Paul Moist, were quoted in an Associated Press story that ran in many papers across the state.

The union representing state engineers, architects, geologists and surveyors is also keeping a close eye on P3s.  Progressive bloggers have also mined the Canadian experience to argue against P3s in the state.

This isn’t the first time the governor has promoted P3s for the state’s infrastructure. In May 2007, Schwarzenegger visited BC and praised the province’s “tremendous success” with P3s.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Campbell was overheard telling his California counterpart that, "within a decade, every major infrastructure project in this province will be built and managed by private interests." CUPE BC has drawn on this connection in its anti-privatization campaign material, dubbing Campbell ‘The Privanator’.

At the time, media coverage back home showed Schwarzenegger was having difficulty promoting the schemes. Pro-privatization forces have been frustrated with the slow pace of privatization in the state.

Schwarzenegger is stealing from the Canadian script in many ways. Taking a page from Infrastructure Ontario’s attempt to dodge P3 opposition by rebranding the schemes as ‘Alternative Financing and Procurement’, the governor has taken to calling P3s ‘Performance Based Infrastructure’.

The governor wants state lawmakers to pass legislation this year setting up a 'Performance-Based Infrastructure Center for Excellence', modeled on the public agencies in BC and Ontario that promote P3s.

Meanwhile, back in BC, the government continues push to privatization in spite of the evidence. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon recently said the province’s P3 track record was “nothing short of stunning.”

CUPE will continue to work closely with SEIU 1000 and other allies to protect public services on both sides of the border.