Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Questioning P3's

No one has been a bigger salesman for the concept of “P3’s” than British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.

And on paper and at the hotel ballroom dinner, the notion of Public Private Partnerships seems full of good potential.

Let’s get the crafty, knowledgeable private sector, which know all the secrets of hiring workers and buying supplies and materials to join forces with governments to build those much-needed roads and dams and hospitals.

Costs will be cheaper and more efficient and the job will get done on time, on budget and with the liabilities shared among the participants.

But, as with all issues in life, intention is everything.

And from the outset, do we really know why Mr. Campbell favors so strongly this P3 model?

Is it the alleged efficiencies and cost benefits?

Or is it, as many suspect, that P3 is a not so elaborate pea and shell game whose sole purpose is to give business to friends and supporters?

The case of care homes for seniors on Vancouver Island is worth a look in this regard.

Cowichan Lodge had happily served the community for many years. That is, until the Vancouver Island health Authority, announced out of the blue that the Lodge would be torn down and replaced by a private facility called Sunridge Place and that the residents of Cowichan Lodge would be dis-lodged and moved to the new facility.

The community was understandably outraged. Rallies were held, 12,000 locals signed a petition in protest, and the news coverage chronicled people’s angers and fears. To no avail, of course. The one was closed, the other opened and the elderly residents were moved in.

Today, we learn that the elderly at Sunridge and the families who pay their bills are finding new costs and expenses at every turn.

Pharmaceuticals cost more. Wheelchairs, mattresses and underwear are more expensive at the shiny new P3.

The managers of Sunridge Place and the VIHA have their excuses at the ready. “We don’t have anything to do with the billing,” says the Health Authority.

Well, why the hell don’t you? If your going to uproot seniors and move them across the street or across town, the least you could do is be responsible.

Or was that part of the original intention?

As David Mamet says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “You don’t sell a guy a car. You sell him many cars over 15 or 20 years!” And service and tires and CD players.

Drugs are more expensive at the new P3 because Sunridge, unlike Cowichan before ir doesn’t buy in bulk. And oddly, residents are compelled to buy from the in-house, more expensive pharmacy. Why? Why can’t they buy down the road at Shoppers or Safeway?

Cloverdale’s Zion Park Manor is soon to close, to be replaced by…well, you know.

If governments are going to enter in to contracts with private suppliers for public services, they might consider having some dominion over ultimate costs to the consumers, who are called citizens.

Unless, of course, there were other intentions all along.