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By now youve probably heard about the Martin governments freeze on capital spending. All ministers and top-level bureaucrats have been ordered to reconsider low-priority programs. The Globe and Mails John Ibbitson spells out exactly what that means in his December 17 column: public-private partnerships. Two of the criteria that programs must meet in the review are:

What activities or programs should or could be transferred in whole or in part to the private/voluntary sector?

Does the program exploit all options for achieving lower delivery costs through intelligent use of technology, public-private partnership, third-party delivery mechanisms and non-spending instruments?

John Ibbitson writes: Any union leader can tell you what that means. That means privatizing some government services and contracting out others to the private sector. Ibbitson likens Martins moves to the privatization policies of Mike Harris in Ontario and Jean Charest in Quebec.

Of course, there is one expenditure that is exempt from the program review, which the new Liberal regime considers so vital to Canadas interests that it cannot be touched: the $3-billion contract to replace the Sea King helicopters. Can anyone remember any occasion since the Korean War when a Liberal government specifically protected the Defence Department from a round of government cutbacks? Ibbitson asks. Is there a single more conservative act that a government could commit?

Read Ibbitsons column