Transparently secretive is the new transparent

The New Brunswick government does not want us to know how much it is paying Shannex because that would make for more competition for Shannex, and that company hopes to win more contracts with the province. **

That does not make sense. Why is the government agreeing? The government has its reasons. We don’t know what they are. We only know their reasons require obscurity.

I can understand that a business does not want to make public what it charges or how many sales it has with a client. A business only has their own interests to protect. That’s capitalism.

That such a business, when it accepts government money, would still prefer not making anything public, I can even understand that. That’s capitalists.

But that the government agrees with this is wrong. Who is protecting our interests if not them? Government spending must be transparent. Competing bids are good, right? It’s our money, not Shannex’s, right? This government campaigned on greater transparency, right?

That the judge who agreed with keeping this secret accepted the argument that making it public would give competitors an edge shows that our problem goes beyond a government with suspect priorities. Might it be that our laws value private profit over citizens’ interests? We can only hope that Green Party Leader David Coon will be able to appeal that decision and / or that the Auditor General will once again come into the room to be the adult. The Right to Information Commissioner has already said that the information should be public, but the government refuses.

Is New Brunswick going to have government by preferred-suppliers? Medavie does the health care and ambulance, Irving the forest resources, Shannex the nursing homes? The Legislature will hardly have to meet. Citizens will just receive the companies’ annual reports. Each time part of the government is outsourced like that, citizens seem to lose some of our right to information about the funding or the decisions.

Well, they can outsource all they want, but you don’t outsource responsibility.

Of course another main reason to be opposed to the cozy deal with Shannex is that this is one of those dastard public-private “partnerships” where government pays more than it would otherwise to get something done by paying the private partner’s higher financing rates and, of course, its profit margin. But the government likes these deals because you can do them quickly, like before an election. The Auditor General had recommended in 2009 after the government had made exceptions to the tendering rules to do a first contract with Shannex that an extensive analysis of the efficiency of those public-private deals be done before signing off on more. The analysis has not been done.

Senator Eugene Forsey used to say that the proper role of government is to work for and report to us, like the line in the Newfoundland folksong, “The captain’s below making tea for the crew.” This government is below brewing something, but are we going to be served?

____

** Shannex is a private company that runs six New Brunswick nursing homes and has said it wants to win the bids for several more. The Premier recently announced that the government would build 10 new 60-bed nursing homes over the next five years under a private-public partnership model similar to those already signed with Shannex. Green Party Leader David Coon asked for the contracts to be made public in 2016. The Minister released copies with blacked-out information. Mr. Coon went to court and in March 2018 the court decided Shannex’s right to keep secret how much it received from government trumped the public right to know.

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