Rise to democratic responsibility on P3s

There is some healthy debate in the public arena presently pertaining to profiting from public resources and services.

There is some healthy debate in the public arena presently pertaining to profiting from public resources and services.

The public may need to consider the bigger logical and philosophical implications of continued Public Private Partnership (P3), or what many Canadians are increasingly calling P4.

Good or bad, I like to think of the P4 model as “public pays 4 private profits.”

Logically we can ask why public officials began purchasing public resource development and service delivery from the private sector. The public has been told by our public officials that P3 ventures are generally more efficient and affordable than “public works.”

Reportedly, private enterprise is more capable of funding, designing, building and operating virtually any capital project. So let us assume that this is true and the public will pay the cost of resource development and service delivery plus the cost of a profit margin over a long term contract.

Perhaps the only question is, what is a reasonable profit for private enterprise to extract from a P3 venture?

But are there any other benefits for public officials when considering P3 ventures. Here are a couple of potential benefits. When problems arise around a P3 venture (start to finish) public officials will be able to defer responsibility to the private service provider. Also, public administrators are not responsible for private employees, so employer – employee relations are not a public service issue.

We can ask ourselves just how socially democratic are we Canadians at this time. How important is our public social infrastructure? How important is public ownership, management, development and funding for public resources and services? Where do we draw the line between public responsibility and private investment?

We have heard from public officials that public services in health care, education, protection, utilities, etc. will always fall under the public domain. However, we see public revenue increasingly funding public services by means of private service providers.

I tend to believe that P3s are more costly ventures, but how much more, and is that cost justified? Is the public ever fully informed upfront – can we handle such complexity?

We seem to learn a lot in retrospect, after contracts are signed. In any event, public or private, this is still a people issue; resident, taxpayer and voter. Why don’t we rise to our democratic responsibility to provide direction to our public officials in the area of P3s. Please be engaged in the process and choose wisely.

Ken Brake