The privatization of public services and infrastructure – and their cousins, the P3s – have been a failed fact-of-life in Ontario for 20 years. At OPSEU, we’ve taken to calling this the “privatization industry.”
Today I want to introduce you to one of the captains of that industry. His name is Bruce Bodden and the Progressive Conservatives want the Liberal government to reward him for his decades of dismantling public sector work by appointing him to the board of Infrastructure Ontario.
A bit of background on Mr. Bodden. For 45 years he was employed by an outfit called MMM Group Ltd., eventually becoming the firm’s president and CEO in 2001 before retiring in 2013. Under his stewardship, MMM was a founding member of Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships.
MMM, an engineering, consulting and project management company, is a pioneer in the field of P3s. Governments of the day have turned to MMM on projects like the Oakville Hospital, the Humber River Regional Hospital, Women’s College Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital, among others. The company also had a hand in creating Teranet, the former publicly-held Ontario land registry office.
Infrastructure Ontario, meantime, is the provincial body that oversees P3s. Its board is made up primarily of bankers, lawyers and assorted blue chip Bay Street types. The Liberals now have to decide whether Mr. Bodden should join the gang.
On Feb. 24, Bodden appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Agencies which makes recommendations to the government on public appointees. His appearance provided us with a glimpse inside the murky world of P3s and how giant companies like MMM and Ellis Don – founded by former Liberal party bagman, Don Smith – battle each other for a piece of the lucrative private-public spending pie.
His appearance came against the backdrop of the Auditor General’s report from last year which thoroughly criticized Queen’s Park for its mishandling of $8.2 billion in privatization contracts, stating that this boondoggle to P3 companies was money wasted when the public sector could have done the job more efficiently and cost effectively.
In her report, the Auditor General also found that Infrastructure Ontario was not adhering to its own conflict-of-interest guidelines.
When asked by NDP committee member Wayne Gates whether there would be a perception of conflict-of-interest by Bodden were he to get the appointment, the career veteran of promoting P3s replied: “I can’t think of an occasion when I’ll have to declare a conflict of interest.”
Bodden dismissed the role of government in public infrastructure projects as one of a regulator and policy-maker. Of course he would! There’s no money to be made in regulation, but there are buckets of public dollars to be found in building hospitals and highways.
Citing the Auditor General’s damning report, Gates asked Bodden whether P3s cost more. Without a blush, he replied: “No, sir, I don’t agree with that.”
And so it went. Liberal and Conservatives tossed lob ball questions in Bodden’s direction while the NDP committee members tried to drill as deep as possible into his background as a pioneer and promoter of P3s.
In the end, the committee recommended that Bodden be appointed to the board. The governing Liberals will make the final decision. The smart money says it will be a slam-dunk. Why wouldn’t he get the nod? What wouldn’t be better than appointing someone who led successive governments down the P3 path to now advise government on the further privatization of public services and infrastructure?
In doing so, Bruce Bodden would become the latest member of Ontario’s Family Compact of Privatization, joining the likes of Liberals Joan Smith, Deb Matthews, David Peterson – all related to each other – and newcomers like Bert Clark, CEO of Infrastructure Ontario and formerly a senior executive with Scotiabank.
Oh yes, Bert Clark also happens to be the son of Ed Clark who is currently advising the Wynne government on “leveraging”– read: selling off – public assets.
As the French might say, plus ça change, plus c’est pareil! The more things change the more they stay the same!
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice President / Treasurer