There is every indication that governments in Canada will increasingly promote public private partnerships as a means of reducing spending and avoiding debt. This has not worked in Britain and there is much evidence that it is failing in Canada.
PPPs do not reduce government debt. They only defer it. They do not make public service delivery more accountable to the public. They transfer responsibility to an unaccountable private contractor. PPPs concentrate service delivery in the hands of large corporations, most of which are transnational. They do not reduce the cost of service to the public. Instead they increase profit to corporations that reduce their costs by undermining quality and access, laying off workers and asking those remaining to do more with less.
The alternative to PPPs is a renewal of the public sector based on government commitment to the funding and provision of quality, affordable services. Governments must show a willingness to directly finance the building, operation and maintenance of schools, hospitals, roads, water and wastewater systems and other essential services and infrastructure. The debt requirements for these types of activities must be seen as a responsibility of government and a priority for the public.
We must force governments and other public agencies to recognize and account for the long-term and hidden costs of PPPs. This includes calculating the cost of future lease payments and comparing it with the cost of borrowing. It also includes the administrative, legal, tendering and supervision costs associated with PPPs.
But more important, they must evaluate PPPs in terms of the threat they pose to the quality, accessibility and safety of public services. They must consider the effect on local communities and public sector workers. And they must consider the question of accountability and responsiveness, putting the public interest ahead of corporate profits.