Bring on the private sector

In light of the Johnson report last week regarding the Laval overpass collapse, the government of Quebec has allocated $11 billion over the next four years to rebuild Quebec’s ailing infrastructure. According to the Johnson commission, “Quebec should also set up stable financing for road infrastructure by including user fees, tolls or partnerships with the private sector for long-term projects.

In light of the Johnson report last week regarding the Laval overpass collapse, the government of Quebec has allocated $11 billion over the next four years to rebuild Quebec’s ailing infrastructure.
According to the Johnson commission, “Quebec should also set up stable financing for road infrastructure by including user fees, tolls or partnerships with the private sector for long-term projects.”
I have no problem with private partnerships for infrastructure in Quebec; in fact, I encourage it because then maybe someone can be held accountable for maintaining it. But user fees and tolls? I’m so confused. what’s that thing we pay in Quebec again? Oh yeah, taxes! Lots and lots of taxes.
At 7.5 per cent on the selling price of goods, Quebec is one of the heaviest taxed provinces in Canada. So why can’t the government efficiently allocate our tax money to maintain infrastructure? That’s the $11 billion question. It makes perfect sense to pump more money into our roads and highways; they’re crumbling in every part of the province. But the idea that more money should come out of taxpayers’ pockets is outrageous.
If you drive just 45 minutes south from here, the difference is staggering. It’s like you cross this imaginary line between bumpy, cracked and hole-plagued, to smooth, new and suspension-friendly. You guessed it; if there’s one thing America gets right most of the time it’s their highways.
Their method is no secret either; it’s that mysterious concept that Quebec is so scared of: the private sector. Its not like Americans are pumping out huge amounts of money in taxes to support the road system.
Instead, the States have done the intelligent thing by employing private companies to build, monitor, and maintain road structures.
Of course, no system is perfect; we all remember the awful bridge collapse that happened in Minnesota.
That incident aside, the concept of companies taking care of infrastructure, like in the States, just makes sense. When a company is hired to provide a service, they can be held accountable for anything that goes wrong with that service. Because of that responsibility, they are obligated to provide more than sufficient maintenance on their products – otherwise, it’s their heads on the chopping block.
The Johnson Report highlights the reason why it’s important to have such accountability.
The report spread the guilt over multiple parties, including the government, the engineers, the supervisors and the materials used. What that means basically, is that no one is held responsible. Therefore, there will be no full blame, no lawsuits and no closure for the families whose lives were terribly changed when the de la Concorde overpass crashed down onto the highway below it.
Had it been a private company responsible for building and maintaining the overpass, the Johnson Report would have laid clear blame; the guilty parties would have been named; and people would have been fired. It’s not like you can fire the transport minister and his anonymous engineers.
It’s clear that Quebec’s infrastructure is in dire need of some serious repairs – we’re talking about more than a facelift here.
The government seriously needs to rethink its plan of action. We pay enough taxes; it’s not up to Quebec’s citizens to fork over more money to a government that can’t be financially efficient in allocating our tax dollars. A public-private partnership is a reasonable option, and would lift a huge burden off of taxpayers.
Will this ever actually happen? Probably not. Knowing Quebec, there will be a $6.5 million study set-up to examine the effects of such a partnership, and then we’ll never hear about it again.

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