What P3 workers think about P3s – Report

June 24, 2020

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

REGINA – Public debates over public-private-partnerships (P3) rarely focus on the maintenance component of these agreements, even though it is this component that is the primary concern over the life of what are often thirty-year plus P3 contracts. While we sometimes get glimpses of what these maintenance contracts mean for our public institutions – prohibitions on decorating walls or opening windows, etc – for the most part, we assume that a P3 school or hospital operates much in the same way that a public school or hospital operates. 

To understand how these decades-long contracts influence the day-to-day operations of these facilities, we interviewed 18 public sector workers employed at various P3 institutions across the province to listen to their experiences. Our new report, A Partnership in Name Only: How the public sector subsidizes the P3 model by CCPA Saskatchewan Director Simon Enoch documents what we discovered from these interviews. Workers at these institutions shared three broad concerns with us, including how the P3 model serves to sow confusion about responsibilities and duties in these institutions, relies inordinately on public sector workers to remedy many of the deficiencies of the P3 contract and often fails in both design and function to promote the best interests of the publics they are supposed to serve.    

“Whoever designed this place never worked in a hospital.”

Workers shared a litany of design and building flaws in the P3 institutions in which they worked, but these failures were particularly acute in the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford. Workers relayed to us many of the design and construction flaws that would later be confirmed by the government and the media. However, our interviews suggest that there are many more problems with the design and construction of the hospital than has been publicly reported:

  • Due to a flaw in the water system, extremely hot water was entering the toilets, and that people were ‘burning their butts’ when they flushed.

  • Multiple shower units in the building had to be replaced due to faulty valves that continually leak.

  • Debris like metal and nails from the original roof construction thrown into the outside courtyard where patients regularly visit, sparking ward searches to ensure none of this debris was making its way into the building.

  • Workers believed there was an escalation in problematic behavior from patients due to being constantly moved from ward to ward in response to the flooding. 

“They had no idea about what managing a school meant when they took this on.”

Interviewees questioned whether the P3 contractors understood they were operating in a unique environment like a school or a hospital or a long-term care home.  One informant relayed an example of what they believed was a general lack of care by the P3 contractor(s) that they were operating in a school environment: 

“I had to tell [P3 contractors and sub-contractors working in the building], if you’re using any power tools, you put them away when you’re done, you don’t leave them out, you don’t leave them plugged in, this is a school...There’s a saw - plugged in - school’s on!”

“Whose job is this?”

The most common complaint voiced by our interviewees was pervasive sense of uncertainty and confusion over who was ultimately responsible for a certain task or job duty. Conflicts over interpretations of the P3 contract often resulted in delays, public sector workers being called in to perform duties that were the responsibility of the P3 contractor, and even fights between the P3 contractor and its own sub-contractors. “They’re all at each other’s throats” one worker commented.  

What became evident as we listened to all of the problems and frustrations with the P3 model by the employees who work in them, is the extent to which public sector workers are constantly called upon to remedy the failures of the model. The report concludes that in a very real sense, the public sector is subsidizing the P3 model, “insofar as it simply couldn’t function to the degree it does if it was not for the largely unrecognized work of the public sector.”

Contact the Author:

Simon Enoch 306-502-0363