A couple of things that have happened in Alberta lately hold important lessons for us all.
The Fort McMurray fire has been a national disaster. It forced 80,000 people out of their homes, and it burned at least 1,600 of those homes to the ground. One estimate put the property damage at $9 billion.
But despite the devastation the fire caused, Canadians were up to the challenge. People all over Alberta opened their doors. People all over the country opened their wallets. Last I heard, Canadians had donated more than $54 million to help the victims of the fire.
What’s the lesson there? For me, it’s that people still care for each other – much more than they care about things. And I don’t just mean they care for their own families. They care for their communities, too — even total strangers. What’s more, their idea of community goes far beyond the town they live in. It reaches across borders. I’d even say it reaches around the planet.
Because it’s our world, and we own it. In these tough times, that’s a good thing to be reminded of.
Just before the Fort McMurray fire started, Alberta had another lesson for us. This time it came from Alberta’s NDP government.
On April 27, the province announced that it would not be using public-private partnerships (P3s) to build new public infrastructure.
This is no small deal. Alberta plans to spend $34 billion on schools, transit, hospitals and other public works over the next five years. Based on Ontario’s experience with P3s, the Alberta government will save billions of dollars by rejecting them.
It’s been a year and a half since Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, calculated that Ontarians had paid $8 billion too much by paying big corporations to manage and finance new public works through P3s. That’s how much we would have saved, Lysyk said, if we’d stuck with traditional procurement methods. The way we used to do it, public employees would manage the contracts, and the government would finance them with low-interest government bonds. That worked pretty well for a couple of centuries.
But when public-private partnerships came along, we started setting fire to public dollars. To put what we’ve lost in perspective, the money we’ve wasted on P3s in Ontario is on a par with what burned up in Fort McMurray.
Fortunately, Alberta has given another important lesson: we don’t have to put up with P3s. We don’t have to donate our hard-earned public dollars to the corporate lawyers, banks, and construction companies that run the P3 industry.
There are better ways to spend that money. We can spend it to create good jobs, at good wages. We can spend it on the public services we all need. We can spend it to keep our families and communities strong.
In the months ahead, OPSEU will be launching a major campaign to get Ontario’s priorities straight. We’ll be fighting for good jobs and strong public services. We’ll be fighting to take Ontario back.
Because it’s our province, and we own it!
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
P.S. Last week, the OPSEU Executive Board voted to donate $50,000 to the Canadian Red Cross to help the people of Fort McMurray. Please make your own donation if you can. If you already have, thank you!