Karin Jordan | CUPE Communications

At the same time as it unleashes a new wave of privatization through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the Liberal government is ensuring key details about privatization projects will remain secret.

These projects are often promoted with unfounded claims they are cheaper than publicly financed, owned and operated projects.

Existing limits on access to information keep Canadians in the dark about the true costs of privatization deals – public-private partnerships (P3s), contracting out, Social Impact Bonds or other schemes.

CUPE warned that the Liberal government’s proposed Access to Information changes won’t make the situation any better.

CUPE presented our union’s concerns to the House of Commons committee studying Bill C-58. Bill C-58 is legislation amending the existing Access to Information Act.

CUPE and other critics are warning that instead of broadening access, Bill C-58 creates new barriers for people who want to access information about the federal government and its departments and operations.

We are calling on the Liberals to uphold and expand the public’s right to know essential information about privatization. This information is routinely not fully disclosed under the existing laws.

Our union has long fought for access to the full details of privatization deals, particularly P3s. P3s are justified using a biased and secretive evaluation process. But the private sector’s claims of “value for money” can’t be proven, as key details are blacked out of any documents that are made public.

Broken Liberal promise on transparency

The Liberal election platform and ministerial mandate letters committed the government to more openness and transparency. But C-58 breaks that promise, including when it comes to disclosure around privatization. None of the government’s proposed reforms will open the books on privatization so the public can know the true costs.

When CUPE and other independent evaluators do gain access, the facts show privatization costs more. A study by Ontario’s Auditor General of 74 public-private partnership projects found they cost $8 billion more than if they had been publicly financed, owned and operated. The study also found there was “no empirical evidence” to justify the projects going ahead as P3s.

Earlier this year, CUPE requested a copy of the analysis the federal government used to justify investing nearly $1.3 billion in a controversial private light rail project in Montreal. The result: 99 per cent of the information was either heavily blacked out, or not provided at all. CUPE has appealed this lack of access, and went public with our findings.

Infrastructure bank shrouded in secrecy

Lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the Canada Infrastructure Bank and its projects is another key priority for CUPE. The bank will be covered by the same rules that limit transparency, and comes with even more restrictions on disclosure.

CUPE helped fund a Columbia Institute report on the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s lack of transparency. Access to information requests submitted to governments about P3s and other privatization projects are “often denied, delayed or redacted. This erodes the transparency and accountability needed for the functioning of a healthy democracy,” warns the Institute.

We are calling for the government to scrap Bill C-58. Further, the government must consult with the public and key stakeholders about how to modernize the Access to Information Act. It’s time for the Liberals to uphold and expand the public’s right to know essential information about federal agencies, departments and elected officials.