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More P3s coming in Newfoundland and Labrador: transportation minister

Transportation Minister Al Hawkins announced Monday that all major infrastructure projects in the province will go through an analysis for potential as a public-private partnership (P3).

Transportation Minister Al Hawkins speaks Monday at the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers Council 2017 Employer of Distinction Awards luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in downtown St. John’s.

That doesn’t mean every big infrastructure project will have private-sector involvement, but Hawkins said the government will consider it.

“All projects going forward will go through this analysis of value-for-money, and how it’s going to best provide services to the general public,” he said.

Hawkins was speaking at the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council (NLEC) awards luncheon, and a big chunk of his speech was devoted to the benefits of public-private partnerships — namely the long-term care facility and hospital that are to be built in Corner Brook.

“The approaches for both of these projects combined will result in tens of millions of dollars in savings for the government. That’s accomplishing more and spending less. That’s doing better business, and that’s progress,” Hawkins said.

He then went on to suggest that public-sector unions support this approach.

“NAPE and CUPE have indicated they support government operating in a fiscally responsible manner, and that is what we’re doing,” Hawkins told the NLEC audience.

A union representative had a different interpretation.

“I am not supportive of this approach whatsoever,” said Wayne Lucas, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Newfoundland and Labrador.

Lucas said CUPE has been trying to get answers about the structure of the Corner Brook hospital and long term care P3s, and the government hasn’t provided information.

“Why the shroud of secrecy? Why is it that they’re not sharing the information with reporters, with people that are concerned, with unions?” he said.

“I honestly feel as if I’m getting the brush-off, and I feel that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are getting a brush-off.”

NLEC executive director Richard Alexander was much more sanguine about P3s — in fact, he’s been publicly lobbying the government to more heavily adopt this approach to infrastructure procurement.

“It’s change for Newfoundland and Labrador, but the reality is it’s not change for the rest of the country,” Alexander said.

“This is something that’s been going on for 40 years in Canada.”

Hawkins’ speech made it clear the Liberal government is pursuing the private-sector approach to public infrastructure because the provincial government is in a financial mess.

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” he said.

“A key question that we have to address: how do we provide vital services and deliver important infrastructure in the face of enormous fiscal obstacles? The answer is you have to find new and innovative ways to do business to get the best value for taxpayers’ money.”

The government will deliver a budget on April 6 that is anticipated to include deep spending cuts as Finance Minister Cathy Bennett wrestles with a deficit currently running well over $1 billion.


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