Liberal fire-sale of public assets stopped
In March 2012, the Ontario Liberal government introduced its mammoth budget bill – Bill 55, the Strong Action for Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2012. Buried in Bill 55 was Schedule 28, which set out a new statute – the Government Services and Service Providers Act, 2012. Schedule 28 contained powers that would allow the government to privatize almost any crown corporation or government service.
While the government initially claimed that Schedule 28 was limited to the privatization of Service Ontario, that was clearly not the case as explained in a legal opinion prepared by Steven Shrybman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
This week, the Liberals bowed to public pressure and amended Schedule 28 – or as CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn called it, the “Privatize Everything Act”. The finance committee has passed dozens of amendments to ensure that Schedule 28 is restricted to Service Ontario.
“Under these amendments, the Act would no longer provide a vehicle for privatizing the delivery of most government services from electricity transmission to local hospital care. The Government’s proposed amendments should be seen as a significant concession to critics who pointed to the dramatic overreach of the initial draft,” says Steven Shrybman from Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, who provided legal analysis on Schedule 28 to CUPE Ontario.
The amendments reportedly include:
- Restricting Schedule 28 to Service Ontario and requiring a vote in the legislature before the sale or privatization of an asset. However, the amendments still allow huge privatization of Service Ontario and do not clearly restrict services from being added to Service Ontario and then privatized;
- Changing schedule 16 so government authority delegated to non-governmental bodies must be reviewed by the Auditor General;
- Deleting several clauses pertaining to interest arbitration that would have made the system more cumbersome and less effective.