“Accountability” might seem like a dry topic, but it’s a major concern for CUPE members. When it comes to contracting out and public private partnerships (P3s), accountability is at the heart of the story.
After all, contracting out led to the sponsorship scandal that brought down the previous Liberal government and helped get Stephen Harper elected Prime Minister.
In response to that scandal, Harper’s Conservative government recently introduced its heavily promoted Federal Accountability Act. The legislation, Bill C-2, is now in committee hearings at the House of Commons and could soon become law.
But C-2 is deeply flawed. It contains major loopholes that might not have even prevented the scandal that brought down the Liberals – and could allow more similar fraud to occur.
Incredibly, the bill simply does not deal with private contracts. Instead, it would make virtually all other recipients of government funding over $200,000 per year subject to detailed scrutiny by the auditor general – scrutiny that private contracts for goods and services would escape. In other words, non-profit agencies like immigrant settlement organizations and employment agencies that receive federal funding would be scrutinized but private contractors would not.
Any decent “accountability” act would increase the transparency and disclosure required for government contracts with third parties and private companies. The Conservative draft legislation just doesn’t do the job, despite its length and scope.
Bill C-2 is a whopping 271 pages of legislation that amends dozens of different existing acts and proposes two new acts. The changes proposed in Bill C-2 would put the public sector under a microscope, but would leave the private sector – and its use of public funds – shielded from scrutiny.
This could lead to a dangerous prejudice against public spending generally, while private forces laugh all the way to the bank. The sponsorship scandal would end up looking like a garage sale.
CUPE has long pushed for greater disclosure of privatization deals, P3s and private contracts and has supported court cases to obtain this type of information. But we shouldn’t have to through the courts – this information should be provided publicly by governments. The Conservatives’ Bill C-2 keeps things under wraps.
CUPE’s submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-2 includes specific proposals for amendments that would close these loopholes and bring some accountability to the “Accountability Act”.