Canada’s Minister of Finance and I have something in common.
He has the same responsibility to Canadians that I have to OPSEU members. We’re both entrusted with other people’s money. And we’re both supposed to spend it wisely to meet the needs of those we work for.
So I was shocked two days ago when Bill Morneau gave his fall fiscal update. Instead of talking about how he was planning to meet the needs of all Canadians, the minister announced a $200 billion infrastructure bank that will only invest in public-private partnerships, also known as P3s.
P3s won’t help Canadians. But they will funnel billions of public dollars to wealthy private investors.
Here in Ontario, we know exactly why P3s and privatization schemes are a bad idea. We know from the 2014 Auditor General’s report that we’ve already paid more than $8 billion extra through P3s to fund private profits on public projects. And we only have to look at Highway 407 and its soaring toll rates, or the workers at Waypoint put in danger each day by the design flaws of that P3 fiasco, to see how the public pays the price every time the private sector gets involved.
It’s not complicated. In fact, it’s just basic math, which a Finance Minister should be able to do. Government bonds – which we always used to use to pay for things like infrastructure – are at historically low levels. These days, the federal government is paying interest rates of about 0.7 per cent on a five-year bond. On the other hand, wealthy investors are already talking about getting returns of 7 to 9 per cent from this scheme.
I get why wealthy investors love the idea – they stand to make ten times the money. That means billions of dollars more, every single year. But why would our Finance Minister want to pay those billions?
If the rich are so desperate to invest in infrastructure, they can buy Canada Savings Bonds. Instead, with this scheme, it’s Canadians who will have to pay the bill for these billions of dollars in profits for investors, whether it’s directly through public dollars or through user fees and higher rates for those who use the services.
So why does the Finance Minister seem so excited by this plan?
Looking at the news, I’m getting a bad feeling I know why. Because everywhere Morneau goes, he seems to be holding closed-door meetings with his old friends, including CEOs and corporate lobbyists. It seems if you know the right people, and you can afford the cover charge, you can get special access to the Finance Minister and give him your wish list.
And his most recent decisions – and in fact the Liberal agenda at both the federal and provincial level – are starting to look a lot like those wish lists.
Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope he just hasn’t looked closely at the numbers, and that when he sees how much his P3 plan will cost Canadians, he’ll change his tune.
But if he doesn’t, and if he’s forgotten that he works for all Canadians, not just those who can pay the price of admission, we’re going to have to remind him.
Those are public dollars he’s managing. They’re mine, and they’re yours. And they are there to meet public needs, not line private pockets.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union