The following letter, written by CUPE National President Paul Moist, is a response to an article by Jack Mintz from the Financial Post published on July 15, entitled “How to pay for urban infrastructure”.
Public services and public infrastructure are fundamental to both the economic and social fabric of Canada. We have a duty to our communities to ensure that everyone can access clean water, affordable electricity, public transportation and services like hospitals, libraries and schools. In his article “How to pay for urban infrastructure” Jack Mintz glosses over this important point, foregoing any meaningful analysis of the public good provided by strong public services and infrastructure.
While Mintz considers the concept of public investment in infrastructure and services a ‘relic’, it in fact is a necessary ingredient to creating the economic conditions for growth as well as enhancing the quality of people’s lives. The benefit from public infrastructure, like public urban transportation, roads, and schools cannot be measured by just the number of users – there are large benefits for all society.
It’s irresponsible for governments to wash their hands of providing public infrastructure that people and communities rely on. Recent disasters in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec show us that we need infrastructure that can withstand disasters and in these circumstances, public operation of basic services like water and wastewater are key pieces of recovery and public health. Placing infrastructure ownership and operation into private hands dilutes government’s ability to respond quickly and to share the cost of response amongst the community.
Mintz does, however, make a good point on the dangers of relying on public-private partnerships. P3s result in governments taking risk and the private sector taking profit. Case after case illustrates these risky deals can lead to higher long term cost, a loss of control of public assets, and greatly diminished public accountability. Auditors general in Quebec and Ontario are taking note that P3s are not all they are cracked up to be. Mintz fails to point to a single success story using his own criteria.
We do need long term solutions for infrastructure. This is why it is so critical for the federal government to commit to significantly increased funding for long term, predictable and flexible public infrastructure spending that puts the priority on public good before private profits.
Canadian Union of Public Employees