We’ve noticed that our posts about P3s – public-private partnerships – tend to be of less interest than others. We hope it’s not because our readers are less interested in how billions of dollars are being squandered at a time when front line health care workers are facing layoffs, but because your head goes numb around all the technical mumbo jumbo from issues of risk transfer to value-for-money comparisons. Trust us, slogging through this stuff is hardly fun for us either.
So, we thought, better make it fun and educational because these P3s are eventually going to come around and bite us all on the bum as they presently are in Britain. Ouch!
Here is our sly attempt to describe in really basic terms what’s going on and why we should all be concerned.
What is a P3?
This is the first problem with P3s – there is no hard definition of one. Just to confuse the heck out of everybody, Ontario decided they weren’t doing P3s at all, rather they were engaged in Alternate Financing and Procurement (AFPs). It occurred to them that some people might put together all these news stories about P3s gone wrong and start to question why Ontario is still charging ahead with them, especially when Dalton McGuinty and company actually campaigned against two Tory-inspired P3 hospital deals in 2003. Whoops! Just to make matters even more confusing, in Britain, the birthplace of such schemes, they call them PFIs – private finance initiatives. At least the Brits had the decency to realize there’s not much public about these projects.
P3s are essentially the privatization of public infrastructure. Of course the Conference Board of Canada insists this is a myth, that the public technically still owns these structures (even if they don’t fully control them) or if they don’t, will get back ownership of these building after the contracts are up and the buildings are towards the end of their useful life. How reassuring! Then, of course, they can be P3’d all over again!