I’m proud to live in a city that doesn’t easily yield to the mania of public-private partnerships (P3s). The role of governments is to serve the public interest, not entertain profit-making, oftentimes risky, ventures. Moreover, unless a municipal government can prove without a scintilla of doubt:
a) that a P3 will cost less without sacrificing quality or the public good; and,
b) that they know how to properly negotiate a P3, then cities must avoid dabbling in such partnerships.
And I make these points with great hesitation. I have not been convinced that P3s save money in the long term, I fear loss of public control, and I fret about diminished accountability.
But if I thought P3s were worth the risk (which I don’t), point b is most compelling. According to David Zussman (in C. Dunn, ed. “Handbook of Canadian Public Administration”), P3s must be skillfully negotiated, otherwise they “may lessen public accountability, increase the cost to taxpayers, expose the government to hidden costs, and make the governments bear the majority of the risk” (p. 62). Jinkies!
I would make a final point that there could be an abrogation of the principles of democracy when entering into P3s. That is, I voted (or a plurality of voters) for elected officials to serve us. I did not elect a corporation, motivated by profit and not the public good, to serve me.
This piece by the Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray is worth reading: “TTC yes, Private Manager No”.