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The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) wrapped up its annual conference in Toronto Nov. 28-29, 2005 with a lot of self-congratulatory talk and back-slapping over the triumphs of P3s. The theme of this year’s conference was Canada’s missing infrastructure and how P3s can solve the problem.

Bank of Canada governor David Dodge opened the conference with a speech about efficiency, innovation and productivity. He said that only the private sector – with its motivation for profit – can deliver innovation and efficiency. The public sector is incapable of doing so because it has no profit incentive.

Speakers and delegates talked about risk management, risk assessment, risk matrix, process risk, legal risk and risk pricing.

A session on transportation P3s was exuberant, especially when it came to the financing, operation and maintenance of toll roads and commuter train lines. Toll pushers from the United States see Canada as a wide open market. They cited the recent sale of the Chicago Skyway – and the CAN$2.11 billion sale of a Chicago roadway with a 99-year leaseback arrangement – as an example of potential deals in Canada. The Highway 407 deal in Ontario was highlighted.

However, there was also measured caution on P3s in certain sectors. For example, water and wastewater were not high on the list of infrastructure and services that are “P3able” (a term that was heard often).

Harry Swain, chair of the “Ontario Expert Panel on Water and Wastewater Strategy,” moderated a session that was fairly muted toward water privatization. The key reason for the lack of enthusiasm was that governments have failed to consolidate water services. Until that consolidation happens, the systems will remain fractured and unprofitable in the eyes of privateers. P3 pushers were basically asking governments to regulate in their favour instead of the public’s interest.

Delegates also discussed departments and agencies in three provinces that area dedicated to facilitating P3s in the public sector. These are Partnerships B.C., Ontario Infrastructure Projects Corporation and l’Agence des partenariats public-privé du Québec. Each agency was at the conference to solicit private sector involvement in public infrastructure.