Three times P3s screwed over Saskatchewan

Regina Bypass/CIMA+

Public Private Partnerships (or P3s) are projects that would typically be paid for with public money (like schools, hospitals, and infrastructure projects) that are instead undertaken in partnership with a privately-held company (or companies). They’re favourites with austerity governments because they cut public spending, pass the buck on accountability to the private sector, and allow the government to give shiny contracts to their friends, all while promising to save the public money because the private partner is (ostensibly) on the hook for maintenance costs. But as Saskatchewan shows, when you allow private companies to make bank on the backs of the public, it’s the people who pay.

3. Elementary Schools

Have you ever wondered “how could the foundational education of children be improved by the involvement of a profit-motivated corporation”? If so, P3 schools are right for you! When we bring public-private partnerships into the school system, we get all the benefits of conservative cuts to education, like ballooning classroom sizes, but with the added bonus of costing around four times more for maintenance. In 2018 the Leader-Post reported that the Government of Saskatchewan is paying four times as much for the maintenance of each of its 18 P3 schools than it is on each of the remaining 621 schools, even though 414 of those buildings are more than half a century old.

2. The Regina Bypass

The first transit infrastructure project to be completed in a public private partnership is the most expensive stretch of flat road in history. You might think that that makes it the best stretch of flat road in history, but you would be wrong! In 2014 the Government of Saskatchewan bought 204 acres of land for the bypass at massively inflated prices, just a few years after scooping land out from under an order of Catholic nuns for artificially low prices under threat of expropriation. Originally costed at $400 million, the project (which the government promised would save the people of Saskatchewan money because of the P3 model) cost has ballooned to nearly $2 billion. That’s savings, right? The bypass officially opened on October 29, 2019, but we’ll be paying for it forever!

1. Battleford Hospital

Just months after the metaphorical ribbon-cutting ceremony on the newly constructed Battleford Hospital the people of Saskatchewan were told that the building would need its roof replaced because the modular roofing panels shrank due to spring thaw, causing the roof to leak. (This is understandable – the annual spring melt is completely unforeseeable and no construction company working in Saskatchewan could be expected to anticipate such an event.) Then just two months ago, it turned out that the water, which medical professionals agree is a necessary component for being alive, was undrinkable. On October 31, opposition leader Ryan Meili said that the admissions unit had been closed due to mould. (Good thing the staff are in a hospital already!)

All of these projects have turned out Very Well for the people of Saskatchewan, and I eagerly await the fresh horrors the P3 model will bring to our fair province.