Manitobans should not be afraid of the government partnering with the private sector to run public services such as provincial parks.
Research shows these partnership agreements with private operators are quite common, are often well run and bring significant efficiencies and revenue sources for the public.
Back in 2020, the provincial government passed a law allowing companies to enter into agreements to provide services at public parks. In this case, a private company was asked to manage St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park Campground.
After the area came under extensive flooding in 2011, the local community advocated for its restoration. The government then sent out a request for proposals for a private operator to upgrade and run the area’s seasonal campground.
However, conservation groups and the provincial NDP are raising unnecessary alarm over this lease deal with a provincial park in Manitoba.
The first problem is the usual suspects are bringing out terminology that confuses the public. It is misleading to call what is happening “privatization.” There is no transfer of land ownership to the private sector or some permanent abdication of responsibility.
NDP’s official opposition critic for conservation and climate, was quoted as saying, “The reality is when you start privatizing pieces bit by bit, they’re no longer public, and we do see it as this slippery slope in terms of what’s going to happen in other parks over time.”
But fortunately, the government was quick to correct this misinformation by reminding the public that the third-party manager does not own the land, which still belongs to all Manitobans. It is a 21-year lease agreement where the third party manages specific parts of the park’s campground. This is no different than other agreements the government has with commercial business operators to provide services at provincial parks.
Conservation groups are also contributing to the misinformation. Some are claiming – without any evidence – that the arrangement will mean that endangered and federally protected species will be adversely affected.
“The Manitoba government has really given up their responsibility to manage this area, and we need the federal government to look at species care in this area,” said Eric Rader, wilderness and water campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
These comments, of course, assume a contradiction between private motive and achieving the public good. They do not see how these public-private partnerships can positively bring both interests into alignment.
Just like at election time, union interests that dominate the provincial NDP are attempting to raise fear within the public about any experimentation or innovation in service delivery. They fear the loss of expensive government jobs.
Whenever governments investigate different options for service delivery – whether in areas ranging from health care to museum management – union interests get into high gear to protect the high wage jobs of their members. They are not looking out for the public interest or the public purse. They like to conflate their interests with the public interest but that is often not the case.
The public should resist being played by the opposition and its entrenched interests on these issues. Manitobans should ask tough questions but they should understand how these kinds of agreements can be tailored to serve the public interest. The agreement should stand and the public can assess its impact over time.
Photo by Bibin Tom on Unsplash.