Editorial — Aug. 5, 2014

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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Sometimes it takes a while before a decision can fully be graded as good or bad.

The provincial government has decided to build nine new schools -- three in Regina, four in Saskatoon, one in Martensville and one in Warman -- using a P3 model.

Construction will begin next summer with the schools ready for the 2017 school year.

Gordon Wyant, minister responsible for SaskBuilds, said in a press release on Thursday that it’s a sound decision.

 “Financial analysis, conducted by external experts, demonstrated that a P3 model will deliver the best value for Saskatchewan taxpayers.”

Let’s start by reviewing what a P3 actually is. It’s a partnership between government and private industry to build something, whether it’s a bridge, a road, a hospital or a school.

Once it’s finished, the government then pays for it for a set period of time

On the positive side of the ledger, governments aren’t on the hook for upfront costs and don’t pay for overruns. Proponents say that they work extremely well when the estimated costs of government building something are higher than the costs of a private business building the same thing.

In essence, proponents say you can get something cheaper, faster and sometimes better than the equivalent public project, and without the same level of risk.

Not so fast, say critics.

They question whether the projects are in fact any less expensive or are just privatizing government projects for corporate profit.

Critics worry that lucrative side deals are being signed as governments try to rush projects to completion.

It’s difficult to know where the truth lies because the argument is deeply rooted in differing philosophies of government held by the right and the left.

The left hates them; the right loves them.

It’s interesting to look one province to the left and see that Alberta decided in June that a similar plan was a bad one.

“We have always maintained that Alberta would only use P3s where they show value for money and, with this project, a P3 does not make sense,” Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale said at the time.

Those aren’t going to be encouraging words for Saskatchewan taxpayers hoping that the government gets the very best bang for their bucks.

This might be one of those projects where it takes 20 or 30 years to fully grade the Wall government on the homework they did to make this decision.

We applaud the decision to build joint facilities between the two divisions because that sort of arrangement will surely deliver some cost savings. At least we can count on that.

As for the P3s themselves, people of a certain age were always encouraged to buy rather than rent. In a long-term situation, it always makes more sense to buy if you have the money.

One day we’ll know if the homespun wisdom or the financial experts were right. By then, the schools opened in 2017 will be starting to get a little long in the tooth.

 

Prince Albert Daily Herald

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Regina, Saskatoon Martensville Warman Alberta

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