TORONTO – An act buried in the Ontario Liberal government’s mammoth budget bill makes sweeping changes that open the door to privatizing almost any crown corporation or government service, and will lead to more back-room deals, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn and lawyer Steven Shrybman exposed at a Queen’s Park press conference this morning (May 28).
At the press conference, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario president released a new legal opinion written by Shrybman, a partner at Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP practicing in public interest and international trade law, on Schedule 28 of the budget legislation, Bill 55.
“This act opens the door to privatizing every public service in the province, even contracting OHIP services out to an American HMO, all without the approval of the Legislature, and all without any scrutiny,” said Hahn. “Ontarians learned from Ornge and eHealth that major deals affecting public services must be done out in the open and transparently. This act will give us a crate of Ornges.”
Contrary to earlier reports, Schedule 28 is not limited in scope to Service Ontario. The legal opinion, which is posted on the CUPE Ontario website at cupe.on.ca/budget, states that Schedule 28 gives cabinet authority over “contracting out or privatization of any and all Ontario Government Services,” to any person or corporate entity, whether Canadian or foreign-owned.
The act overrides requirements for quality standards contained in other, pre-existing laws. It also allows private service providers of public services new powers to collect and retain fees, even though that is prohibited by the Financial Administration Act, and transfers decision-making authority from the Legislature to individuals and private corporations.
“Once that authority is given, there is no requirement for transparency or accountability for privatization decisions made by the minister or the quasi-Crown corporations similarly empowered under the Act,” said Shrybman. “And this is true regardless of the character, scale or importance of the services in question.”
It opens the door to back-room deals to sell off the LCBO or Hydro One, and allows government services including water quality monitoring or school curriculum development to be privatized or contracted out.
CUPE Ontario is calling on all three parties to remove this disastrous Act from the budget bill immediately.
“The Liberals are taking a page from Stephen Harper’s playbook. They’re attacking the foundations of our democracy, and hiding the legislation in a huge budget omnibus bill,” said Hahn. “We believe the public has a right to know what its government is doing, and has a right to have a say in how services are delivered. Schedule 28 takes the last requirements for accountability and transparency and throws them out the window. That’s something that should be seriously debated in the house.”
CUPE Ontario is the province’s largest union. It represents more than 230,000 workers in five main sectors: health care, school boards, municipalities, social services and universities.
For more information, please contact:
Craig Saunders, CUPE Communications, 416-576-7316