Public-Private Partnerships Leave Wake of Debt on the Canadian Prairie


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Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) are hurting taxpayers in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to an article in Briarpatch, an independent Canadian magazine. Author Sara Birrell explains that the partnerships involve contracting private companies to create public infrastructure, instead of using publicly funded, government organizations. She argues that this process puts a greater financial burden on the taxpayer, using three specific examples from the last two years in Saskatchewan: elementary schools; a highway bypass; and a new psychiatric hospital.

In the first example, Birrell states that the “public-private partnerships in the school system, benefits conservative cuts to education, like ballooning classroom sizes, but adds the bonus of costing around four times more for maintenance.” She points to an article in the Regina Leader-Post for evidence that the Saskatchewan government was paying more in maintenance in 18 P3 schools than in 621 other public schools, combined.

Secondly, she points to a stretch of road circling Regina, the provincial capital, meant to create better convenience and limit inner-city traffic to the small city of 230,000. The bypass was originally budgeted at $400 million but ballooned to $2 billion as a P3  – something taxpayers will be paying “forever.” Lastly, Birrell looks at the situation at the brand-new psychiatric hospital outside the small northern city of North Battleford. Roof leaks, contaminated water, and mould surfaced less than a year into the building’s lifetime.

There has been extensive front page coverage of P3 budget overruns and construction failures, but establishment news reports have treated each boondoggle separately rather than as growing evidence that the P3 system itself is failing citizens. Birrell sheds light on a pattern that has otherwise gone unnoticed. The use of privately-owned enterprises has led to a huge crisis in services not being used to their initial purpose. Birrell concludes by sarcastically stating, “All of these projects have turned out very well for the people of Saskatchewan, and I eagerly await the fresh horrors the P3 model will bring to our fair province.”

Source: Sara Birrell, “Three Times P3s Screwed over Saskatchewan,” Briarpatch, January 6, 2020, https://briarpatchmagazine.com/saskdispatch/view/public-private-partnerships-p3s-screwed-over-saskatchewan.

Student Researcher: Donovan Maess (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Sayda Momtaha Habib (University of Regina)

Review Article with Credder

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