Don’t sign P3 schools contract, start straightforward schools build now: NDP

P3 rental schemes have worked poorly and cost more in other provinces. The NDP wants the Sask. Party to turn away from its P3 schools scheme before the contract is signed, and instead start building schools in a cost-effective and transparent way.

The NDP has previously criticized the government's plan to use a massive, bundled P3 to have private corporations build and operate schools in Saskatchewan. Now, with the government just about to sign the contract and evidence from other jurisdictions' bad P3 experiences piling up, the Opposition says it's urgent that the plan changes before the province is locked in to a 30-year bad deal.

“Instead of awarding a private conglomerate from another province or country a lucrative deal to build and manage our children’s schools for the next 30 years, let’s learn from other provinces and just do this the straightforward way,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “If we decide to own and maintain our schools ourselves – as we always have – we save money, we get building immediately and our communities will get all the access to the schools they’ve always had.

“The delays have already been too long, and the consulting and bidding fees we’ve paid are already piling up. The government needs to stop its rent-a-school plan before it hands out a multi-million-dollar contract to an out-of-province and out-of-country conglomerate.”

In Nova Scotia, a Conservative government abandoned that province’s P3 schools plan after finding the new schools were costing $2 million more, each, than a straightforward build. 

In Alberta, the P3 schools plan was scrapped by the previous government because it failed to be competitive enough to guarantee value. Alberta parents and school boards also found troubling community concerns with P3 schools, including groups like sports teams or children’s groups not having access to the buildings after school. 

In Ontario, the Auditor General said 74 P3 projects in that province, combined, cost taxpayers an extra $8 billion.

In B.C., P3 Crown Partnerships B.C. has been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals – but, despite that, the Sask. Party government is giving it $5.6 million in consulting fees in its P3 push. 

“Other provinces have gone down this road and turned back,” said Wotherspoon. “Why is the Sask. Party trying the same costly experiment?” 

He added that the bundled P3 approach – hiring one massive conglomerate to build nine cookie-cutter schools on a single contract – will shut out the local construction industries.

“The value, dollar for dollar, just isn’t there in a P3,” he said. “And the value to the local economy certainly isn’t there when you have a corporation from another province or country being paid to build and operate our schools.”

Both Ontario’s Auditor General and Saskatchewan’s Provincial Auditor found that the so-called value-for-money audits being used to justify P3s are based largely on unsubstantiated assumptions. Most notably, to make the straightforward method of a provincial build look bad, it inappropriately assigns a “risk” amount five or six times greater than the amount budgeted for the P3 method. 

“After a decade of resource wealth, it’s shameful that the Sask. Party hasn’t built the schools our communities need,” said Wotherspoon. “The fact is, paying to get shovels the ground now and owning and operating our schools ourselves is faster and less costly than a complex scheme of for-profit financers and management corporations.”

The winning bidder on a bundle of P3 schools awarded Monday is a massive international conglomerate from Milwaukee, Vancouver, Ontario, Saskatoon and Alberta.