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Privatization: ‘If we’re silent, nothing changes,’ Barrie town hall hears

We Own It Barrie town hall

More than 30 people came together in Barrie last night for a town hall meeting about protecting their communities from the damage done by privatization in hydro, correctional services, and health care.

“If we don’t fight privatization, we’ll end up right where they are right now in England,” said one of the panelists, medical lab technologist and OPSEU Region 3 Regional Vice-President Sara Labelle.

“Their health care system used to be the model for the world, but since they started privatizing, their costs have definitely gone up. Now they have to fight to make hospitals public again.”

Moderated by local television talk show host Leanne Pendleton, the town hall meeting was one of many that have been organized across the province by people working on the We Own It campaign to protect public services from privatization.

Pendleton said she was impressed by the town hall panelists, and urged the attendees to help make sure that privatization is an issue in the upcoming provincial and municipal elections.

“Hearing from these speakers tonight, I feel like we’re heading down a road of no return, and it’s road that will leave a lot of people behind,” said Pendleton said.  “It’s important for all of us to keep talking about how bad privatization can be for us.

“If we’re silent, nothing will change.”

Central North Correctional Facility Correctional Officer Chris Jackel was another panelist. He reminded the crowd that when Central North opened in the early 2000s, it was under private management.

“But it was brought back under public management after an independent review found it was performing worse by every single measure compared to a similar public facility,” Jackel said.

“In terms of inmate health, in terms of inmate recidivism, in terms of inmate and staff safety. In terms of effect on the community. By every single measure, the privatized facility did worse.”

Although no Ontario jails are under total privatization, Jackel says privatization continues to creep into the system, pointing to privatized food services, contracting, and maintenance. He added that he is not just seeing privatization in his own workplace; he feels the effects in his everyday life.

“Look at snowplowing in this area,” he said. “It’s been under private contract, and it’s meant our roads have been plowed less often.”

Hydro One Not For Sale spokesperson Rosario Marchese said that creeping privatization has been the main driver of skyrocketing hydro rates.

“Before 2000, did anybody complain about hydro rates? No, because the system was still public and it worked,” he said. “It was when privatization started that our rates started going up, and they keep going up.”

Marchese pointed out the deregulation of hydro rates, the privatization of management at Bruce Power, and the privatization of green energy have all contributed to the problem.

“We could have let Ontario Power Generation build our windmills. But instead, we gave the contract to Samsung and promised to pay them 80 cents a kWh for 20 long, painful years,” he said. “Well, guess who has to pay that huge bill? It’s us, right here in this room.”

After the panel presentations, people in the crowd vowed to act.

“I'll be writing to my MPP and MP and my city councillors, too,” said one man. “I’m going to  talk to my friends and neighbors and tell them that if we don't get speak out, we’ll lose.

“No matter what colour the government happens to be, we need to speak out.”

Labelle finished by saying that speaking out works, pointing to a successful fight she helped lead last year about the expansion of private health clinics.

“We had meetings just like this across the province. We got people speaking out, and we forced the government to abandon their privatization plans,” she said. “We can stop privatization.”

Click here for CTV News coverage of the meeting.