SNC: A golden opportunity to drain the privatization swamp
Publication DateMonday, March 25, 2019 - 10:00am
The he-said-she-said coverage of the SNC-Lavalin scandal is compelling political theatre. But if Canadians look beyond the daily drama of Justin Trudeau’s clumsy cover-up, we can seize a golden opportunity to make our lives meaningfully better.
Better hospitals, highways, and schools. Lower debt and lower taxes for working people. All of this can be ours if we recognize that the SNC-Lavalin scandal isn’t just a story about federal Liberal infighting – it’s actually the tragic tale of what we lose when we vote for politicians who are mired in the privatization swamp.
SNC-Lavalin is a major player in this story, but it’s not the only one. EllisDon. Carillion. Serco. For years, these corporations and many others like them have been corrupting our politicians and pushing deeper and deeper into the public sphere, robbing us of tax revenue, driving up our debt, and cheating us of the quality services and infrastructure that we paid for with our own hard-earned dollars.
Now, I’m not suggesting that construction companies shouldn’t build our hospitals and our highways. That’s exactly the way it used to be. However when construction was done, we maintained ownership, accountability and control. If revenues flowed from the project, we got to keep those, too.
The trouble began when the companies hired to do the construction work started pushing greedily for more. They didn’t just want millions of our dollars to build hospitals and highways, they wanted billions of our dollars to manage or outright own them.
Thanks to a public inquiry on corruption in government contracting in Quebec, we now know that SNC made its grab for those billions with cozy relationships, illegal campaign contributions, secret deals, and outright bribery and fraud.
And as the scandal spreads to Ottawa, we’re seeing just how successful SNC has been. From Trudeau on down, the federal Liberals – and even the top bosses in the civil service -- are trying as hard as they can to sweep this corruption under the rug.
But remember: this is NOT just a story about the federal Liberals. SNC had ties to the Harper Conservatives. Nor is this just a story about SNC.
Here in Ontario, the construction giant EllisDon has for more than three decades had intensely incestuous relationships with provincial politicians.
EllisDon founder Donald Smith was president and chief fundraiser for the provincial Liberals. Smith’s wife, Joan, was a cabinet minister in David Peterson’s government. Smith’s son, Geoff, was chair of the Ontario Liberal Fund.
Geoff has been a particularly aggressive privatization booster and EllisDon has reaped the rewards, getting hundreds of millions of public dollars in dozens of privatization deals from the McGuinty and Wynne governments.
What’s the problem with that? For starters, this: the Auditor General found in 2015 that the people of Ontario had been overcharged by more than $8 billion for privatized construction projects.
Add the billions we lost on the sell-off of Highway 407 (which is now partly owned by SNC), the billion we lost in the gas plant scandal and the billions we’re losing because of the Hydro One sell-off, and a clear pattern emerges. Privatization is robbing us of our own wealth.
Imagine what we could do if all those billions hadn’t been taken from us.
Imagine the help we could provide children with autism. Imagine streets and sidewalks that are plowed and classrooms that aren’t overcrowded. Imagine the repayments we could be making on our debt.
But sadly, the privatization swamp has grown so large we’ve come to accept it.
As Doug Ford prepares to open the floodgates on health care privatization, I’ve heard too many people meekly say: “there’s already some privatization in health care, so what’s the point of fighting more?”
That’s like saying “there’s already an inch of water in the basement, so what’s the point of fixing the leak in the foundation?”
The longer we ignore the leak, the farther the rot will spread.
Likewise, the longer we allow the privatization industry to corrupt our politicians, the more money that will be taken away from you, your family and your community.
But the SNC scandal is a golden opportunity for change. During the next federal and provincial elections, let’s turn this he-said-she-said story into a we-said story: we said no more corrupt privatization. We would be all better off for it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union