Article by: The Daily Gleaner
New Brunswick taxpayers and political representatives shouldn’t have to resort to court rulings for transparency on public-private partnerships. The recent ruling against opening up provincial nursing home contracts with Shannex Inc. shows a lack of public accountability.
Green Party leader David Coon ran into a brick wall when the Court of Queen’s Bench ruled against opening up details of the nursing home contract between the province and Shannex. Mr. Coon sought the court order after the province redacted key elements in the released document, including per-diem rates and staffing levels.
Other private firms providing public services have also tended toward secrecy. Medavie Health Services New Brunswick refused to release its monthly report cards on Ambulance New Brunswick services to the public. The private non-for-profit company says the information would compromise its competitive position.
We believe the public’s right to know trumps a private provider’s competitiveness.Efforts to keep public service details secret should concern everyone. Nursing home and ambulance services cost taxpayers millions annually. The Gallant Liberals and previous governments have touted public-private deals as ways to improve services and save taxpayers money. But these deals, once signed, have a history of not being open with details to prove their merit.
Opposition MLAs, media outlets and members of the public shouldn’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops or waste court time pursuing what should be available knowledge: namely, whether these public contracts are a good deal for New Brunswickers. Government watchdogs agree with our transparency stance. Anne Bertrand, former New Brunswick information and privacy commissioner, recommended the Shannex contracts be released in their entirety.
Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes rejected an attempt by Medavie Health Services New Brunswick to release the monthly Ambulance NB report cards. The retired justice said the move by Medavie was without merit. The department of health has pledged to release the reports.
In the case of Ambulance New Brunswick, the released information shows cause for concern. The rate of increase for ambulances being off the road due to lack of staff was 55 per cent last year. Over the last three years, the increase has been 138 per cent.
It’s clear the ANB partnership isn’t working as intended. But so far the Liberals aren’t saying much about how, or even if, they will have Medavie solve this problem. In future, the province needs to be up front with all private sector providers of public services: contract details will be public knowledge. If a company doesn’t want information in the public realm, it shouldn’t bid on it.
That’s an easy order on future deals, but it will take government resolve to push reluctant private sector firms into more openness for existing contracts. We think the province has no choice. Too many secrets are tainting these deals, and if the public is ever to have any faith in privately managed nursing homes, ambulances and other P3 services, government and private sector providers need to be transparent about these contracts.