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The Ontario governments bid to make privatization mandatory took a big step forward in 2001, bolstered by two proposed laws that undermine public services and limit local democracy.

In May, the government introduced the Public Sector Accountability Act. Bill 46 would impose a cost-cutting framework on municipalities, hospitals, universities, social service agencies, school boards and other public institutions, forcing all major organizations that receive taxpayer dollars to run balanced budgets, and requires them to publish yearly business plans in a never-ending quest for ongoing efficiencies.

In introducing the bill, then Finance Minister Jim Flaherty boasted it will push public bodies to look for areas where the private sector could do a better job. The finance minister has the power to withhold funds from public institutions that dont balance their budgets, giving the government an effective tool to force privatization.

With many parallel provisions, the Ontario governments proposed Municipal Act will let municipalities set up corporations and privatize services, while requiring annual reports on service delivery improvements. (Some speculate the government will abandon Bill 46 if the Municipal Act passes.) The government can compel municipalities to meet standards of efficiency and effectiveness, with the threat of funding being cut to municipalities that dont meet the test. Under the bill, Ontario cities and towns will continue to be straightjacketed by provincial downloading and cuts, vulnerable to private sector bids to profit from public services.

Bill 111, introduced in October 2001, ignores the cross-Canada debate about greater autonomy and new fundraising powers for cities and towns. While the bill lists municipal spheres of jurisdiction where municipalities can introduce laws as long as they dont conflict with federal or provincial legislation, many areas arent included. Land-use planning, housing, child care, preventative public health, social assistance and policing dont make the list even though responsibilities such as housing have been fully downloaded to municipalities.