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Stephen Harper and his cabinet have unveiled P3 plans that make the previous Liberal government’s P3 push look like amateur hour.

In November’s economic and fiscal update, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stressed the government would be “taking advantage of the innovative financing provided through public-private partnerships”. He went on to tell the media that the federal government would be setting up a dedicated federal office to act as a “clearing house” for P3s – similar to agencies in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.

Taking another page from B.C., the federal Tories will all but force “every province and territory to consider public-private partnerships as a condition of infrastructure funding”. He went on to say P3s wouldn’t be “mandatory,” but it’s clear which way the deck is stacked.

Days before, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Lawrence Cannon kicked off the annual conference of the pro-P3 Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships. He told delegates his government saw “great opportunity for public-private partnerships in the realm of infrastructure.”

The recent Canada-Quebec call for P3 proposals to complete Montreal’s Autoroute 30 clearly signals the one-way street the Tories have chosen for all roads and bridges. It isn’t clear what other community infrastructure will fall under the funding dictates.

Flaherty’s finance announcement also dangled a carrot for Canadian pension funds, several of which have made recent P3 investments abroad. He said that pushing P3s “will also provide opportunities for Canadian pension funds and other investors to participate in infrastructure projects here in Canada rather than being forced to look abroad, as is often the case now.”

CUPE’s response to Flaherty’s fiscal update highlights the dangers of P3s, as does an opinion piece by CUPE National President Paul Moist published in the Hill Times, a widely-read Parliamentary newspaper.

Other privateers are seizing the moment of this heightened P3 push, including CIBC World Markets. Shortly after the economic update, the investment firm released a report calling water the new oil.

A firm economist said “the market is paying attention” to the infrastructure crisis. “Capital investment, deregulation, consolidation, and privatization of global water assets and services are advancing at a pace not seen before,” he added. The report notes – presumably hopefully – that water is “not yet a commodity.”

With files from The Globe and Mail, Canadian Press and Osprey News Network.