Nfld. & Labrador

'Not considering partnerships would be irresponsible,' says employers' council to government

The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council says it's time the provincial government changes how it delivers services.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council presented a study on government partnerships with private and not-for-profit sectors Thursday morning in St. John's. (CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council (NLEC) says it's time the provincial government changes how it delivers services.

"In the perfect storm that we're facing as a province right now, we can't afford not to consider partnerships as part of the solution," said executive director Richard Alexander.

"Not considering partnerships would be irresponsible." 

On Thursday, the employers' council presented a study by Memorial University professors Tom Clift and Tom Cooper on government partnerships with private and not-for-profit sectors.

That's where we think the private sector can come in and really provide some value.- Memorial University professor Tom Cooper

Clift and Cooper examined more than 60 studies of public partnerships, in jurisdictions similar to Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia. 

Partnered services included ferries, highway construction, administration of Motor Vehicle Registration, and low-risk health services such as blood collection.

Cutting costs

The study found that the cost of delivering services could be cut by as much as 61 per cent.

It recommends that government take a look at the idea independently, with an audit to identify partnership opportunities. 

Co-author Tom Cooper said in these partnerships, government would still own the services.

"They're really good at policy, they're really good at regulation, that's what they're good at," Cooper said.

"In terms of delivering the service and trying to find some different innovative models? That's where we think the private sector can come in and really provide some value."

The report's release comes on the heels of provincial finance minister Cathy Bennett's comments on Wednesday that the province needs to cut spending by 30 per cent, looking for "bold and innovative ideas" to tackle the current financial situation.  

"This is neither bold, nor is it innovative. This is done everywhere else in the country and around the world," said Alexander.

"So why is it that we're scared to do things differently in Newfoundland and Labrador? And God forbid we save a few public sector jobs and try to improve some services to the people of the province."  

Attitude one of the biggest factors

The idea of private sector involvement in public services has been fiercely opposed by some people in the province — particularly its largest unions. 

Both Alexander and Cooper said it's not about cutting jobs, as the government still has power, and the private sector needs skilled, experienced employees. 

"In most of the examples we saw, they still are provincial government, union employees," said Cooper.

But he admits the jobs could look different, as new people are hired, possibly under a different union. 

Alexander and Cooper say attitude is one of the biggest factors working against the idea of partnerships in this province.

And God forbid we save a few public sector jobs and try to improve some services to the people of the province.- Richard Alexander, NL Employers' Council

The NLEC commissioned public opinion polling by Corporate Research Associates in August 2015, as part of its research.

Out of 400 people who  were contacted, the majority supported private sector involvement in delivering public services. 

"It just boggles the mind. Why don't we even consider this as a public policy option? And I think that's one of the key things that we got from this report," said Cooper. 

With files from Meghan McCabe

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