What provincial auditors have said about P3s – Fact Sheet

Over the years, provincial auditors across the country have questioned the financial rationale for using public-private partnerships (P3s) to build public infrastructure.

Provincial auditors are independent officers of legislative assemblies who review government finances and decision-making to ensure public funds are spent in an efficient and accountable manner.

A number of P3s have now been reviewed by provincial and federal auditors and the verdict is bad.

Auditors have found that P3s cost more than traditional public projects, use questionable methodology, lack accountability and do not transfer risk to the private sector.

Ontario

In her 2014 Report, Ontario’s Auditor General reviewed 74 P3 projects and concluded that they cost the province $8 billion more than if they had been procured publicly. The majority of this— $6.5 billion—was due to higher private-sector financing costs. She also questioned the main justification for using P3s–the assertion that they transferred risk to the private sector. The P3 projects used unrealistically high risk transfer, averaging about 50% of the capital costs.

The Auditor General concluded that “there is no empirical data supporting the key assumptions used by Infrastructure Ontario to assign costs to specific risks.”

In her follow-up audit of the P3 projects, the Auditor General noted that little to no progress had been made on a number of audit recommendations. Further work was required on:

  • Having adequate data to support the calculations of risk transferred to the private sector, and
  • Ensuring the risks that are supposed to be transferred to the private sector actually are.

The Auditor General also highlighted the $36.6 billion in long-term P3 liabilities and commitments that the present and future governments will face.

In 2008, Ontario’s previous auditor general determined that the William Osler Centre, a P3 hospital in Brampton, could have been built for $200 million less through traditional public financing. He also found that the cost of the public option was overstated by more than $600 million and that there was a high cost for advisors and consultants ($34 million).

British Columbia

In 2014, the Auditor General of British Columbia raised major concerns about the high cost of debt through P3 projects. She examined 16 different P3 projects in the province and found the government was paying nearly twice as much for borrowing through P3s as it would have if it had borrowed the money itself.

An earlier 2011 review of the Vancouver General Hospital Academic Ambulatory Care Centre (AACC), known as the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Centre, identified the higher cost of private financing, probed the transfer of risk to the private sector and questioned whether P3s were in reality on time and on budget.

Quebec

In 2010, the provincial auditor of Quebec found that the McGill University Health Care Centre (MUHC) P3 cost more than the public option, and that the analysis used to compare the P3 model to a conventional public model was extremely faulty. Instead of the P3 model saving $33 million, the provincial auditor found that the public model would have saved $10 million. The auditor’s special report to the National Assembly also found that there was a cost overrun of more than $108 million, on top of the original price tag of $5.2 billion.

Not only that, a number of the key people involved in the McGill University hospital P3, such as Arthur Porter and the former CEO of SNC Lavalin, have been charged with corruption associated with this project.

Recently two researchers from Montreal calculated that the government of Quebec would save up to $4 billion if it bought back the two super hospitals from the P3 consortium.

Nova Scotia

In 2010, the Auditor General of Nova Scotia reported on his review of 39 P3 schools in that province. He cited numerous and significant problems with the administration of contracts, notably the absence of a child abuse registry and criminal records checks of sub-contractors. Many of the P3 companies subcontracted work to other companies without ensuring adequate safety checks.

The auditor concluded that “[t]he terms of service contracts are not adequate to ensure public interest is protected…The lack of these significant contract terms impairs the Department’s ability to hold the developers accountable and effectively manage the contracts.”

He also noted that risk was transferred back to government and developers were being paid twice for the service, resulting in a deficit for any local school board.

New Brunswick

In her 2012 report, the New Brunswick Auditor General found significant problems with the decision to build two P3 schools in Moncton and Rexton. She pointed to deficiencies in the value for money analysis used and reported that the decision to use a P3 had been made without any rationale. In fact, she found that the government spent $1.7 million more with a P3 than it would have using public procurement.

Problems were also found through an earlier 1998 audit of Evergreen P3 School and Wackenhut’s Miramichi Youth Facility.

The Department of Finance had claimed that the P3s would provide seven to 15 per cent savings on the design and construction, that capital financing to the private partner was very close to the government’s long term borrowing rate, and that major capital repair and replacement risk would be eliminated. None of these claims proved true.

The Auditor General concluded that the capital cost of the Evergreen School would have been $774,576 less had the province done the work itself and that the Youth Facility cost the Province $700,000 more because of higher financing costs through the private corporation Wackenhut.

Canada

In 1995, the Auditor General of Canada reviewed the Confederation Bridge P3 project, which is often listed as a success story by P3 proponents. The Auditor General had major concerns with the “complex financing” of the project and concluded that the bridge cost $45 million more than if the government had directly borrowed the money.

Saskatchewan

In a 2015 review of SaskBuilds, the provincial Crown corporation responsible for P3s, the Auditor General of Saskatchewan found that the corporation had valued the risk of public procurement to be six times higher than if it had used P3s. The Auditor General noted that benefits attributed to P3s could also occur in public sector procurement and urged the government to gain efficiencies under traditional procurement.

In 2010, the Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Amicus Health Care Incorporated to build a 100-bed long term care facility in Saskatoon, without prior agreement from the health region. Although neither the government nor the provincial auditor called this arrangement a P3, it was by all definitions a P3: Amicus financed 100% of the capital costs and receives monthly capital and operating lease payments from the province over seven years.

The Provincial Auditor criticized the absence of a cost benefit analysis:

The proposed daily capital rate is higher than other affiliates [nursing homes] because of Amicus borrowing 100% of the capital required for construction. We were unable to obtain the basis for calculating this rate for Amicus. As well, neither the [Ministry of] Health nor Saskatoon [Health Region] could provide us any written analysis to support that funding long-term beds in this new way is cost effective for the Province.

The Auditor also noted that once the construction was completed, the Saskatoon Health Region “assumes the risk over debt repayment and the operation of the new facility.”

Dr. John Loxley also reviewed what little information was disclosed about the Amicus deal and concluded that private financing would cost $11 to $20 million more than if the province had built the facility.

CUPE Research – April 2017

10 problems with P3s

Across Canada, some governments are promoting privatizing public infrastructure and services through public-private partnerships, also known as P3s.

In a P3 deal, private corporations make a profit from financing, operating and/or maintaining public infrastructure projects. Municipal or provincial governments, school boards or health authorities sign contracts with private corporations to design, build, operate and sometimes finance infrastructure and deliver services that were once public. These contracts can last 30 years or longer.

Working with our allies, CUPE has helped keep many vital services public, because we know they keep our province strong.

P3s are privatization, pure and simple. There are many reasons public works best to build and maintain long-term care facilities, hospitals, water and wastewater treatment facilities, schools, transit systems, roads, bridges and other vital assets.

Here are 10: 

  1. P3s cost the public more

Private, for-profit corporations get involved with P3s to make a profit for their shareholders. Those profits are made charging more for the project (including financing costs), and/or from cutting the operating costs. Lawyer and consultant fees add even more to the P3 price tag.

In 2014, Ontario’s auditor general reviewed 74 P3 projects and found they cost $8 billion more than if they had been publicly financed and operated – that’s 30 per cent more than public projects would have cost, or about $1,600 per Ontario household. Fully $6.5 billion was due to higher costs of private borrowing.

Governments and other public sector bodies can borrow money to build infrastructure much more cheaply than the private sector. P3s are like using a credit card instead of a low-cost mortgage to build public facilities.

  1. The public still shoulders the risk

Even advocates of P3s admit they cost more than publicly-delivered projects. To sell the deals, advocates have developed complicated arguments and questionable calculations about risk transfer and efficiency to gloss over the fact their costs are higher.

P3 contracts include hefty additional charges for any risk that is transferred from the public to the private sector. Even then, private corporations can seek bankruptcy protection and walk away from contractual commitments. When this happens, governments must scramble to maintain public services, and taxpayers are stuck with the higher costs of private sector operation.

Provincial auditors general have found that the way government agencies promoting privatization analyze P3 projects is biased, and does not take into account the higher cost of private financing. In Ontario, the auditor found no evidence to back claims P3 projects shifted risk to corporations.

  1. P3s hurt workers

P3 contracts often involve outsourcing good public sector jobs to for-profit operators. This can involve all jobs or some types of jobs such as cleaning, maintenance or food preparation. Ultimately, the for-profit operator seeks to maximize profits by cutting corners and doing more work with fewer staff. Furthermore, the tight budgets that come with higher-cost P3s can also lead to deteriorating wages and working conditions. Finally, there are no guarantees that jobs will be protected over the life of a P3, even if there are initial promises of job security. As one example, nearly 400 jobs have been cut since the North Bay P3 hospital opened in 2011.

  1. P3s operate in secrecy

Privatization means details about financing and operations are hidden from the public. P3 contracts involve lengthy and complex negotiations behind closed doors. Unlike governments, private corporations are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. This means residents don’t have access to information about the environmental and economic actions of companies. Most so-called ‘Value for Money’ reports about P3s edit out important financial information about how that value was calculated. This means we can’t accurately assess the true costs of privatization.

  1. We lose public control and accountability

Private corporations answer to shareholders – not residents and elected officials. The mandate of shareholders is to ensure profitable and growing businesses. Our governments answer to the public. At best, P3s blur the lines of accountability and responsibility. Basic public services like health care, water and wastewater treatment should respond to the priorities of the people that rely on them, not the profit motives of shareholders.

  1. Multi-decade contracts limit flexibility and responsiveness

P3 contracts lock local governments into multi-decade deals with private companies. As technology improves and community needs change, P3 contracts tie the hands of municipalities, provincial governments, or school boards that want to adapt and evolve. Changes can only be made after re-opening contracts, and come at a high price. With trade deals like CETA coming into force, governments will find it difficult or impossible to end a P3 when it goes bad.

  1. Local businesses lose out to large corporations

Governments have always relied on private, home-grown, companies to design and build public infrastructure. P3 contracts price small and medium-sized companies out of the game. Only large corporations can provide the up-front financial backing the deals demand, and engage in complex P3 negotiations. This means local design and construction firms can’t bid on projects. It also means, in the long term, that many decisions about local services are being made in corporate head offices, not in communities.

  1. Money and jobs leave the community

Public services offer local residents good jobs in the community. These jobs provide opportunities to train and enhance the skills and experience of residents, and in turn strengthen the area’s resiliency. This is crucial in tough economic times. And projects in the hands of local governments rely on local private sector firms and expertise to design and build public infrastructure. P3s rely on external investment and expertise and often source materials from outside the community. Money that could be returned to the local economy and tax base goes elsewhere.

The ‘discipline’ of public-private partnerships is an illusion. P3 projects can claim to be “on time and on budget” only because the completion date gets set after the lengthy lead time – usually years – it takes to reach the contract stage for P3s. Budget goalposts shift to meet whatever the contract costs.

  1. P3s download costs to future generations

Governments tout the short-term financial benefits of P3s, but P3s are not a short-term project. We all end up paying for P3s down the road. Future generations that had no say in the decisions end up locked into paying the extra costs decades into the future, leaving less money for public services and other community priorities.

A warning for taxpayers in Nova Scotia

A shorter version of this editorial was published in the Halifax Metro newspaper special edition on unions, published April 24, 2017, along with this ad (see photo below).

Time and time again provincial governments are forced to admit they were wrong to use public private partnerships (P3s) to construct health care facilities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Yet here we are as the McNeill Government embarks on another foreseeable failure with the QEII redevelopment project.

Last year, the Liberal government realized their mistake to privately construct and lease 39 schools. They should have owned the schools outright from the start. They recently bought back the leases for 26 of the schools, at an additional cost of approximately $162 million. The alternative was to walk away empty handed, while developers pocket the money spent over the years ($726 million on principal and interest payments) and keep the buildings.

First P3 schools, now P3 hospitals. It was recently reported that the government paid 12 times the assessed value of land purchased for a new outpatient centre.

Similar in scope to the QEII redevelopment, a review in 2014 of the P3 used to finance Montreal’s University Health Centres found that the capital costs were at least $1.8 billion over the original price tag. See more examples at novascotia.cupe.ca/no-room-for-profit-in health-care.

Why would the McNeil Government rely on P3s with higher-cost private financing? There’s a desire by many politicians to keep borrowing costs off their books, at least in the short term.

P3s are not in the best interest of workers, our families or our communities.

Nan McFadgen
CUPE Nova Scotia President

Private financing wrong direction for Canadian infrastructure bank

A report written by CUPE Economist Toby Sanger warns that private financing of the proposed Canada Infrastructure Bank could double the cost of infrastructure projects, and shows how the bank can instead provide low-cost, public financing for much-needed projects.

The study was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in advance of the federal budget, where more details of the proposed bank are expected to be unveiled.

Sanger outlines the dramatic shift from Liberal election promises of a bank with low-cost financing to the current plan, which focuses on higher-priced private borrowing. The shift will increase pressure to privatize key infrastructure, and will mean less public funding is available to deliver public services and infrastructure.

“No homeowner in their right mind would commit to a loan or mortgage at a rate of 7 per cent or more when they can borrow at 2.5 per cent — especially when it involves locking in over 10, 20 or 30 years, and paying close to twice as much in total costs over the life of the project,” writes Sanger. “So why would the federal government make the Canada Infrastructure Bank rely on higher-cost private finance?”

The study outlines how the federal government could establish a Canadian infrastructure bank that works in the public interest by providing low-cost financing for public infrastructure.

Download a printable copy of the report: Creating a Canadian infrastructure bank in the public interest.

Five times provincial governments failed with P3 hospitals

A warning for taxpayers in Nova Scotia

Time and time again provincial governments are forced to admit they were wrong to use public private partnerships (P3s) to construct health care facilities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars more than they would spend if those hospitals were publicly owned and constructed. Auditor Generals, researchers and journalists across Canada continue to report on P3 failures and unnecessary waste of taxpayers money, yet here we are in Nova Scotia as the McNeill Government is about to embark on another foreseeable failure.

Let’s stop with the misleading jargon and practices and start making transparent, evidence-based decisions. Put our health care dollars into the public health care system, not into construction cost overruns and the pockets of private companies – who may not even be from our province. Keep our hospitals and long term care facilities public.

North Bay Regional Hospital – Ontario

The P3 North Bay Regional Hospital cost at least $160 million more as a P3. The project financing costs are adding millions extra each year, over 50 beds have been closed, and they’re on the third round of layoffs with over 100 jobs cut. The hospital only opened in 2011.

Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre – Ontario

The Royal Ottawa Hospital mental health facility opened in November, 2006 – smaller than originally planned, and with fewer beds. The final cost of the P3 hospital was $146 million, a cost overrun of $46 million. Economist Hugh Mackenzie analyzed publicly-available financial details of the ROH. He concluded that private financing added $88 million to the hospital’s costs.

Montréal’s University Health Centres

In 2014, the Quebec newspaper La Presse reported that Auditor General Renaud Lachance released a review of Montréal’s University Health Centres explaining that the capital cost estimates were at least $1.8 billion over the original $5.2 billion announced for the P3 project. That’s actual P3 costs for the Center hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, the research center, the McGill University Health Cente, and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center. That’s not a typo – that’s billions!

William Osler Hospital – Ontario

The William Osler Health Centre in Brampton, Ontario is another example of a P3 gone wrong. In 2008, the Ontario Auditor General found that the building of the P3 facility in cost $194 million more (in 2003 dollars) than it would have as a public hospital. Local fundraising in Brampton had to increase to more than $230 million from an original $100 million in order to try to cover the difference. In the words of Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard “taxpayers got screwed”.

Diamond Health Care Centre, Vancouver General Hospital – British Columbia

The research found that in the case of the P3 Diamond Health Care Centre – they report that the actual nominal cost of a P3 was more than double that of a publicly procured project. In 2009, forensic accountants found that the Diamond Centre in Vancouver’s General Hospital total nominal cost (whole life cost including maintenance) could have been $89 million if it was built publicly. The BC provincial government spent $203 million – or $114 million more – on the hospital as a P3.

Back In House: Why Local Governments Are Bringing Services Home

Back In House: Why Local Governments Are Bringing Services Home, a new report from the Columbia Institute, is about the emerging trend of remunicipalization. Municipal services that were once outsourced are finding their way back home. Most often, they are coming home because in-house services cost less. The bottom-line premise of cost savings through outsourcing is not proving to be as advertised.

Other reasons for insourcing include better quality control, flexibility, efficiency in operations, problems with contractors, increased staff capacity, better staff morale, and better support for vulnerable citizens. When services are brought back in house, local governments re-establish community control of public service delivery.

The report examines the Canadian environment for local governments, shares 15 Canadian case studies about returning services, follows-up and reports back on two earlier studies promoting contracted out services, provides a scan of international findings, and shares some best practices and governance checkpoints for bringing services back in house. Many of the local governments examined employ CUPE members.

As part of our ongoing work to promote the value of publicly-delivered services, CUPE helped fund the production of the Columbia Institute report Back in House.

Order free copies of the report

This report examines shares 15 Canadian case studies, best practices and governance checkpoints for bringing services back in house. Order here.

Lessons from the Charbonneau Commission

Privatizing public services can have dangerous consequences

Most people will remember the explosive allegations exposed by Quebec’s public inquiry into corruption and collusion within Quebec’s construction industry. The Charbonneau Commission found that for years, supposedly reputable companies were awarded public road, wastewater, and other building contracts at highly inflated prices. These companies would then kick back a portion of the profits to the mafia, as well as to government officials and political parties that helped secure the contracts.

But what allowed these private companies to establish the intricate corruption schemes and highly inflated prices in the first place? Let’s take a look at some of the causes.

Austerity and outsourcing

Many of the witnesses agreed: years of austerity and cuts within the Transport Ministry created a situation where there was not sufficient internal expertise to properly monitor and inspect public tendering processes, especially in identifying a project’s needs in the design phase. The ministry was also unable to properly assess cost overruns and other invoices during the building phase.

Similarly, outsourced municipal work created conditions, which were ripe for corrupt companies to abuse the system. In Montreal alone, outside municipal workers from CUPE 301 were reduced from 12,000 in the 1970s to about 5,000 in the 2000s. Consequently, in some privatized areas like sidewalks, wastewater and paving, the lack of competition allowed mafia-linked companies to form cartels which then rigged the bidding processes and inflated prices by up to 30 per cent.

Public-private partnerships (P3s): a risky lack of transparency

The Commission focused much attention on the corruption scheme at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) P3 that implicated then-CEO Arthur Porter and SNC Lavalin. The report shows how the veil of secrecy surrounding P3s opened the door to corruption. MUHC managers were able to choose the members of the selection committees that oversaw the bidding, and both the managers and committee members were offered bribes to favor one bidder.

All of this could have been avoided if the province had decided to go the traditional route by financing the project publicly.

And if that wasn’t enough, Quebec think-tank IRIS released a paper in 2014 demonstrating that the province could save nearly $2 billion dollars by buying back the contract and bringing the hospital back into public hands.

What can we do about these problems with the system? The commission’s 1700-page final report, tabled in November of 2015, sets out 60 recommendations to help fight corruption and collusion, including hiring more internal expertise at both the provincial and municipal levels, more oversight and transparency in the public tendering process, and strengthening protections for whistleblowers.

“An often-suggested approach (…) to preventing collusion between stakeholders in the private sector and improving the estimation of construction costs is to strengthen the internal expertise of public sector offerors, particularly by allowing them to perform certain tasks themselves, using internal staff.” *

“Internal expertise is an effective defense against collusion.” *

*Source: Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry (Volume 3, pp. 134, 135)

Asking the right questions: A guide for municipalities considering P3s

In this guide, economist John Loxley takes a critical look at the case for and against using public-private partnerships (P3s) for municipal infrastructure.

His analysis goes beyond the claims made by P3 promoters to examine the costs and consequences of privatizing vital community assets. Through a series of questions, Dr. Loxley outlines the problems that accompany infrastructure and service privatization, and highlights the value of keeping vital assets and services public.

With growing financial and political pressure on municipalities to use P3s, this guide is a timely resource that answers key questions about financing and delivering infrastructure projects.

Order free copies of the guide

With this guide, municipal councillors and civic officials will be able to ask the right questions before considering entering into a P3. Order here.