Manitobans shouldn’t be afraid of the government partnering with the private sector to run public services such as provincial parks.
Research shows these partnership agreements with private operators are quite common, are often well run, and bring significant efficiencies and revenue sources for the public.
In 2020, the provincial government passed a law allowing companies to enter into agreements to provide services at public parks. In this case, a private company was asked to manage the St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park campground.
After the area came under extensive flooding in 2011, the local community advocated for its restoration. The government sent out a request for proposals for a private operator to upgrade and run the area’s seasonal campground.
However, conservation groups and the opposition NDP are raising unnecessary alarm over this lease deal.
The first problem is the usual suspects are bringing out terminology that confuses the public. It’s misleading to call what is happening “privatization.” There’s no transfer of land ownership to the private sector, nor is there any permanent abdication of responsibility.
Lisa Naylor, the Opposition NDP critic for environment and climate, said, “The reality is when you start privatizing pieces bit by bit, they’re no longer public, and we do see it as this slippery slope in terms of what’s going to happen in other parks over time.”
The Progressive Conservative government was quick to remind the public that the third-party manager doesn’t own the land, which still belongs to all Manitobans. It’s a 21-year lease agreement where the third party manages specific parts of the park’s campground. This is no different than other agreements the government has with commercial business operators to provide services at provincial parks.
Conservation groups are also contributing to the misinformation. Some claim – without evidence – that the arrangement will mean that endangered and federally protected species will be adversely affected.
“The Manitoba government has really given up their responsibility to manage this area, and we need the federal government to look at species care in this area,” said Eric Rader, wilderness and water campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
These comments, of course, assume a contradiction between private motive and achieving the public good. Critics don’t see how these public-private partnerships can positively align both interests.
Just like at election time, union interests that dominate the provincial NDP are attempting to raise fear within the public about any experimentation or innovation in service delivery. They fear the loss of expensive government jobs.
Whenever governments investigate different options for service delivery – in areas ranging from health care to museum management – union interests get into high gear to protect the high-wage jobs of their members. They aren’t looking out for the public interest or the public purse. They like to conflate their interests with the public interest but that’s often not the case.
The public should resist being played by the Opposition and its entrenched interests on these issues. Manitobans should ask tough questions but they should understand how these kinds of agreements can be tailored to serve the public interest.
The agreement should stand and the public can assess its impact over time.
Joseph Quesnel is a senior research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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