Article by: DAILY GLEANER
Photo by: JOHN CHILIBECK Legislature Bureau
Green party leader David Coon leaves the Fredericton courthouse Monday after appearing before a judge to argue the provincial government should release financial information on a contract it signed with Shannex to run nursing homes.
New Brunswickers shouldn’t have to depend on a Court of Queen’s Bench ruling to understand how provincial money is spent. But a case now before the Fredericton court will determine whether taxpayers can see complete financial details on five privately-run nursing homes.
We question why a judge has to become a gatekeeper for government accountability and transparency.David Coon, Fredericton South MLA and leader of the Green Party, appeared in court to argue the Department of Social Development should release the full contents of contracts it signed with Shannex for nursing homes operated in Fredericton, Saint John, Quispamsis, Moncton and Riverview.
The province had refused an earlier request to release the information, saying it can’t fully disclose the documents because it is dealing with sensitive commercial information. That position is despite the right to information commissioner’s recommendation to release the complete contract. A lawyer for Shannex argued for intervenor status, which the judge granted. The case will return to court Feb. 27.We already know what the court of public opinion thinks of these secretive deals.
Public-private partnerships have been inked by several New Brunswick departments, but Social Development is one of the largest P3 operators, with numerous nursing home and senior care home contracts. Successive governments have rejected the traditional model of adding nursing home beds, an extensive capital construction project built with taxpayer money, with the facility operated by a local not-for profit organization. The P3 model sees a for-profit firm foot the upfront construction costs, and operate the facility for the province, presumably at a profit.
Taxpayers have a right to know which is the better deal. The province won’t play ball. Ultimately this leads to suspicion.
The province needs to be candid with private enterprises interested in a service contract with government. They should warn all potential partners that these contracts will be open to public scrutiny. Companies who enter into these P3 agreements should be prepared to see their financial information in the public eye. If a firm doesn’t want this information disclosed, don’t bid in the first place.
The ‘sensitive information’ argument will become specious if every business knows it will be subject to an open-book policy on bids. Treat these service agreements like every other provincially-tendered item. All bids – not just the winning ones – for everything from janitorial supplies to snowplows are routinely released when a contract is awarded.
Premier Brian Gallant, in year-end interview with Brunswick News, said the province will look at further P3 deals to create more nursing home beds in New Brunswick.That’s good news. The provincial desperately needs more beds for our aging population.
That’s good news. The provincial desperately needs more beds for our aging population.But we don’t need more secretive deals.
The Liberals should learn from the public relations disaster surrounding the new deal for Medavie Health Services to take over management of the Extra-Mural Program and Telecare 811. Be open with corporations and taxpayers on what new nursing home beds will cost, and be prepared to show why a P3 arrangement is a better deal for New Brunswickers.