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Letter: Demand transparency about the P3 process

["Confederation Building in St. John's."]
Confederation Building in St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

Muskrat Falls was a hard lesson to learn; in fact we may never recover from the cost of that lesson! But, if nothing else, we can at least state in no uncertain terms that we will never again allow ourselves to be so tragically deceived and misled.

Well, OK. Maybe just one more time!

But how could that possibly be? There’s nothing in our future that amounts to another $12-plus billion boondoggle. Certainly we would know if that was the case. We would have been out in the streets, angrily objecting to another such project or plan, and ready to ride someone out of town on a rail. No one would be so densely audacious as to try that again, with the smell of Muskrat just beginning to simmer, with the boil still a ways off into our heavily tarnished golden years. Right?

If there is nothing to hide with the “new” P3 model, why then are the announcements and the available project information so vague, so couched in terms created by the P3 industry and understood by almost no one, and therefore so totally useless to the ordinary citizen who seeks a little enlightenment on the use of his or her tax dollars?

Well, no, not right! Public private partnerships (P3s) are being foisted upon us right now by the Liberal government, with each project in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The thin end of the wedge was the long-term care facility and the acute care hospital in Corner Brook, with at least three more now announced or at least alluded to by the Liberals.

How many of these projects, each in the hundreds of millions of dollars, would you think it takes to add up to a cool $10 billion or $12 billion? No doubt those four or five already announced or under immediate consideration are approaching, if they haven’t already exceeded, $1 billion. Give the government free rein and it will be at least $4 billion to $5 billion or more, within three years.

And the Liberals and their consultants are churning them out like they were new craft beers. P3s, and the consultants who unashamedly promote them, have, over the past several years, earned a dismal reputation fuelled by greed and built upon a callous lack of concern for their clients.

There are those who say that the current P3 model is much improved. I would like to be able to believe that. We, like populations everywhere, are in dire need of updated facilities and infrastructure. But is it reasonable, and sensible, to assume that Newfoundland and Labrador is presently in a better financial position than most to be able to afford them? Do we have great gobs of surplus funds tucked away somewhere just waiting for the opportunity to invest some of it? Or could it be that we are simply more gullible, more ripe for the picking, than those who have said no to P3s?

If there is nothing to hide with the “new” P3 model, why then are the announcements and the available project information so vague, so couched in terms created by the P3 industry and understood by almost no one, and therefore so totally useless to the ordinary citizen who seeks a little enlightenment on the use of his or her tax dollars?

Why, when we ask legitimate questions, are there no responses? And I do mean no responses! Does anyone understand what is going on? Where are the opposition parties throughout this process? We haven’t heard word one from them! And isn’t the province’s auditor general in a much more independent and detached position to perform any value for money assessments than those firms who are benefiting, some might even say benefiting the most, from public promotion of P3s?

So, before we embark on a Muskrat Falls 2.0, let’s place a few demands on government. If you want to push the P3 model, you need to be totally open and transparent with the public. Use terminology that everyone can understand. Request that the auditor general compile straightforward and legible value for money assessments for each project. And explain in simple terms where the money is coming from to pay for the project, by year and over the project’s life, and how we can afford it — bearing in mind that we cannot afford anything else. Do that, and I would be the first to support any viable P3 projects.

 

Dave Randell

Mount Pearl

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