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Experts and activists say Québec City hospital administrators must resist pressure to privatize a major redevelopment project.

The P3 critics spoke out at a press conference, as the board of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec (CHUQ) prepared to meet. The board has done an about-face on privatizing the expansion and renovation of the hospital’s Hotel-Dieu facility through a public private partnership.

Just a few months ago, the board was speaking publicly against a P3. Now, they’ve changed their tune and are considering privatization – all the while denying they’re feeling any pressure from the provincial P3 agency or the pro-privatization Charest government.

The sudden change drove CUPE representative Carl Dubé to resign from the board. Speaking at a press conference organized by CUPE 1108, the union representing CHUQ workers, Dubé described the many roadblocks he encountered as a board member seeking project information.

I had to fight tooth and nail for even basic information, and was straight-out refused access to certain details,” he said.

The request for proposals hasn’t been issued, the contracts haven’t been signed and already the workers’ representative is being cut out of the loop, even though I was a board member,” he said, adding this doesn’t bode well for citizens who want to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

Prof. Pierre Hamel, author of a definitive study on municipal P3s, says the hospital administration is tying its hands if it privatizes the facility modernization and expansion.

The most worrying thing for a hospital is the long-term commitment that seriously limits the institution’s ability to adapt,” he said. “The medical world is evolving very quickly…why lock ourselves into a P3 that we can’t get out of if our needs change in the future.”

Ontario Health Coalition activist and CUPE researcher Doug Allan said Ontario’s disastrous experience with P3 hospitals should be a lesson for those considering privatization.

The scenario is the same wherever you go – higher-than-predicted costs, fewer beds for patients and fewer services….Far from cutting costs, P3s have created a higher ongoing financial burden for Ontario taxpayers.” Allan also outlined the “total lack of transparency” of P3 deals.

Evidence from Britain, Australia and Sweden shows privatization isn’t cheaper or more efficient, says Guillaume Hébert, a public policy researcher with the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques. Hebert co-authored a recent IRIS paper on health care privatization. “The knee-jerk assumption that the private sector is more efficient is largely a myth,” he told the press conference.

CUPE 1108 president Claudette Blais says the hospital board must stand up to the provincial P3 agency and the Charest government. “If the hospital administration decides to go ahead with a P3…everyone will lose: patients, workers, taxpayers and citizens.” In fact, she concluded, the only winners will be “the law firms drawing up the contracts and the corporations that will pocket the profits over 30 years.”