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In a radical and disturbing departure from its pro-public stance, Manitoba’s NDP government is contracting out payroll and accounting services for Winnipeg hospitals to a private firm.

The government claims that new budget reporting rules set out by the provincial auditor general have made it necessary to centralize all human resources and financial services for the city’s hospitals and personal-care homes. The capital cost of creating a single, centralized system would be $25-$30 million, a price tag the province says it cannot afford.

Health Minister Tim Sale’s office is reviewing a short list of three companies that responded to a June ad. There is no deadline, but Sale has said he hopes to make a decision by the end of 2005.

Since coming to power, the NDP has had a stellar track record against privatization in the health care sector. It has kept laundry services public and even repatriated hospital meal services from the private sector. It also reduced the number of contracts for health delivery with private clinics to one and passed a law banning overnight stays in private clinics.

However, this move has many worrying the door has been opened to increased privatization. The opposition Tories are gloating, saying the move proves that contracting out leads to a more efficient health care system and that their pro-privatization stance has been right all along. When the Conservatives are applauding the NDP, you know there’s trouble ahead.