Kingston to launch P3 plebiscite campaign today – and we’re part of it

Moshe Safdie is one of Canada’s most celebrated architects. Best known for Habitat 67, a model community housing complex built for Expo 67, Safdie is also the architect behind both the Vancouver Public Library Square and the National Gallery of Canada. For six years he was director of the Urban Design Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

He was originally signed with much fanfare in 2006 to design Montreal’s $1.3 billion McGill University Health Centre Hospital. In 2007 he dropped out when the Quebec government decided to develop the hospital as a public-private partnership (P3/PPP).

At the time he said developing the hospital as a P3 meant the opportunity to build a medical facility appropriate to the 21st Century was now lost.

“It’s in the nature of the beast when you do a PPP. You can call it cutting corners. The objective of the private developer, in order to win this project, is to produce the cheapest possible solution, (emphasis added)” Safdie told the media. “My experience is that the PPP process… is not going to lead either to innovation or anything outside the box, other than the minimal interpretation of the written specifications.”

Safdie must be relieved he dropped out when he did. The McGill hospital project has been at the centre of Quebec’s corruption probe.

Last week former hospital executive Yanai Elbaz was formally charged with fraud in the construction of the hospital. He’s the latest in a growing list of individuals connected with the project to be charged, including two former SNC-Lavalin executives, the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company and the now infamous Dr. Arthur Porter, the former hospital CEO who was a favorite of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In 2008 Harper appointed Porter to the Security and Intelligence Review Committee which oversees Canada’s intelligence service despite the fact that Porter was simultaneously claiming to be a quasi-ambassador for Sierra Leone. Whoops!

Allegations in the case include the suggestion that SNC Lavalin added $20 million into the project price to be used as kickbacks to hospital officials.

P3 promoters are quick to suggest that the Quebec government had little experience with using the private sector to develop projects of this size. It’s not the process, they say, but the inexperience which is at the root of these problems.

Apparently in times of austerity the theory goes that if we keep on throwing away money on these kind of overpriced privately developed projects they will eventually figure out what they are doing. We will also be leaving huge financial obligations to plague us for the next 30 years or more. Rigid long-term contracts will make it difficult for these facilities to adapt to changing needs and new technologies.

Tonight at 6:30 pm in the downtown Kingston Frontenac Public Library we will be part of a Kingston Health Coalition panel discussion on P3s. It will be part of the launch of a new campaign opposing the use of private developers to build a new $350 million public facility to replace the former Kingston Psychiatric Hospital and St. Mary’s Of The Lake.

While the high cost of P3 development will be a considerable part of the discussion, we will also highlight how P3s impact the day-to-day running of a public facility using insightful reports prepared by Marlene Rivier, OPSEU’s Local President at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Carillion, a UK-based company that is among the consortiums bidding on the Kingston project, presently operates the non-clinical services at the Royal Ottawa.

You will also hear more about plans to hold a plebiscite campaign on the issue. Similar plebiscite campaigns have already taken place in other Ontario cities, including Hamilton, North Bay and Woodstock.

The downtown Kingston library is located at 130 Johnson Street. The event will take place in the Wilson Room at 6:30 pm.

Read our quasi-satirical three-part series “P3s For Dummies”
Part I, Part II, Part III

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