Apr 092013

(written in 2006, but remains valid)


The false idea of Public-Private-Partnerships has been embraced by different political parties:

– the Conservatives (Michael Wilson,  Federal Finance Minister in Government of Brian Mulroney was one of the early promoters of the idea in about 1982).

– the Liberals under Jean Chretien accelerated the agenda.

– I don’t know the Federal NDP position, but in Saskatchewan the NDP (when it was in power) has in various forms pursued “partnering”.  Agwest Biotech Inc. with almost 100 percent of its operating funds coming from the Government would be an example.

That thing which destroys democratic functioning – corruption – which we all abhor and which was a major issue in the January 2006 Federal Election has its roots in Public-Private-Partnerships.  We have 25 years of experience with the idea of Public-Private-Partnerships.  The experience substantiates what the thinkers of our day tell us.  There is a cause-and-effect relationship between Public-Private-Partnerships and corruption.

Corruption is necessarily part of a system where the Regulator is a co-investor with the Corporations-To-Be-Regulated: there is no one left to provide effective regulation and supervision.  There is no one minding the store.

(IMPORTANT.  7 brief, cogent statements:  Thinkers of the Day on the Unholy Alliances between Government (public institutions) and Industry)

The looting that occurred with Hurricane Katrina demonstrates what happens when no one is minding the store – people will take what they can for their own benefit with no regard for the common or long-term good.  The failure to protect the commons, for whatever reason, is at the root of unsustainable practices.  Easy example:  a community that over-allocates or that allows contamination of its water supply cannot survive in the longer term.  Robust democracy is the guardian of the commons, in this example the water supply.

It should be no surprise then, that the Government of Canada suffers from chronic and high-level corruption.  The corruption is predictable. Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival, the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics” sets forth a framework for understanding that the system of governance will succumb to corruption if we fail to appreciate the functional roles of two separately evolved sets of ethics, one for the commercial function in a society and the other for governance (guardianship).

But, “Societies need both commercial and guardian work … the two types are prone to corruption if they stray across either their functional or moral barriers.”

The formation of Public Private Partnerships is not only “straying across” the functional barriers, it is the having of intercourse between the two.  With corruption, people of power and influence sack “the commons” at the expense of others in the society. Democratic governance disappears. Look in Africa – the same process is at work here in Canada.

If we don’t get rid of the idea that Public-Private-Partnerships are acceptable in democratic government, we will not be able to protect the water supply, seeds (patented), or other components of the commons against exploitation.

Jacobs says: “The relationship between a regulator and the regulated… must never become one in which the regulator loses sight of the principle that it regulates only in the public interest and not in the interest of the regulated.”

Use water as an example.  Brad Wall (opposition leader, conservative Sask Party) set forth the idea of a Department of Public Private Partnerships to replace the Department of Natural Resources.  (UPDATE:  Wall (now Premier) instead named the takeover of Natural Resources the Ministry of Economy.)

The logical evolution is to a business partnership with Government for our water resource.  Who will look after the interest of citizens?  Selling water is to abandon our water supply to corporate and “power” interests. The entrenchment of the Public Private Partnership system of governance in Canada ensures that it can be no other way. Oil and gas reserves, forests, and other natural resources – water is but another resource to be exploited. And believe me there are many people who see the dollar signs flickering before their eyes – the “blue gold”.

No one has a “stake” in the commons, in this example, in the water supply – it belongs to us all and to other life forms. In a democracy it is specifically the role of Government to protect the components of the commons.  It’s not up for sale or exploitation.  (And by the way, PPP’s are also known as “Picking Public Pockets”.)

We have high levels of chronic corruption in Canadian Government, most apparent at the Federal level and don’t forget the Saskatchewan Govt of Grant Devine (for whom Wall worked, got his early training).  But “corruption” is NOT the issue; it is an EFFECT, a SYMPTOM, or RESULT — not a CAUSE.  Corruption is the consequence of the failure to keep the commercial and governing functions in the society separated.  Public-Private-Partnerships (“P3’s or PPP’s) are the problem. The corruption is EXTREMELY predictable if you understand the dynamics of ethics.

If the CAUSE of the corruption is not understood and addressed, we do not stand a chance of protecting the commons upon which we are all dependent.

Think of the water supply or think of a parallel example:  the ownership of seeds which are also part of the commons.  When Government forms partnerships with corporations to “develop” seed stocks, there is no one left to perform the regulatory function.  The corporation appropriates for itself the commons (ownership of seeds) which rightfully belongs to all people and creatures.

Our experience and the thinkers of the day (Justice Krever, Mae-Wan Ho, John Ralston Saul, John Kenneth Galbraith and Jane Jacobs) tell us the same thing: the corruption and break-down of the rule of law in Canada have their roots in “public-private-partnerships”. The most egregious examples are in the area of biotechnology where the Governments have taken to bed the most corrupt and corrupting of partners – the chemical/pharmaceutical/biotech complex of companies. (Monsanto fined $700 million in Alabama, Dow Chemical fined $1 million by the Attorney General of New York State, Monsanto found guilty of bribery in Indonesia, Monsanto and attempted bribery over Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada, Senate Hearing, Bill Moyers’ documentary on PBS, “Trade Secrets”, Interveners on the side of Monsanto in the Schmeiser case are BioTec Canada and AgWest Biotech, both are “Government fronts” (publicly funded organizations but their name doesn’t tell you that), the infamous “IBT Laboratories” scandal in the 1980’s that involved the chemical and pharmaceutical companies, etc. etc.)

With public-private-partnerships we have strayed very far down a bad road.

You create the conditions for tensions in the society, for anger, for citizen non-compliance with law and regulations, and in the end for resistance if influential interests in the society are allowed to enrich themselves at the expense of others and future generations.

When you work on sustainability issues (sustainable water supplies, etc.) you come to realize that robust democracy is a necessary pillar of sustainability.  The function of Government in a democracy is to defend “the commons” against those who would appropriate it for their own benefit.  The commons are necessary for the survival of everyone.   If you don’t have strong democratic Government that protects, regulates and supervises the use of the commons (air, water, soil, seeds, public money, knowledge),  if you don’t have someone “minding the store”, you gradually fall into corruption and chaos.

IF Government does not get back to its job of regulating, supervision and protection;  if public-private-partnerships are not outlawed, corruption MUST continue to escalate because of the cause and effect relationship.

Sandra Finley

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