HALIFAX: The province’s New Democratic Party and a group of residents are calling on the government to release more information about the Highway 104 twinning project.
On September 11, the Public Accounts committee was told that the government is keeping a request for proposals secret while working with bidders to complete the process for getting bids on the section of highway that is set to be twinned.
Four days later, the Antigonish Residence Association, a group concerned about the highway, issued a press release, criticizing the government’s lack of transparency.
“We’re tired of this government side-stepping questions about this process,” said Sarah O’Toole, a member of the group. “People in Antigonish and Pictou County deserve to know why we are to have the only privately managed highway in the province. No one is disputing the need to twin this section – we just aren’t convinced that P3 is the solution.
“We deserve a safe and public highway just like everybody else.” said O’Toole. “The fact that this government seems dead-set on making a bad deal for the residents of Antigonish and Pictou County is baffling and we want answers from the minister responsible for this, Lloyd Hines and our MLA Randy Delorey. ”
During a town hall meeting on June 4, Christopher Majka, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives research associate and author of a report called “Highway Robbery: Public Private Partnerships and Nova Scotia Highways,” said using a P3 model for the twinning project could potentially end up costing $119.2 million in unnecessary additional costs, including $66.6 million more in interest payments. He said the construction costs of the project as a P3, announced as $285 million, are $52.6 million more than highway construction through normal government procurement.
“The P3 model hasn’t worked for hospitals, schools, or highways. We will spend more on a project we could have built ourselves,” said NDP Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal spokesperson Susan Leblanc. “If there’s a reason that makes sense to go with a P3 for this highway, other than to give away taxpayer money to wealthy corporations, the Liberal government certainly hasn’t shown us what it is.”
According to a press release from the NDP, the benefit to the community in training and good paying jobs is also higher with a traditional build than in a public-private-partnership, they noted.
“[The] Public Accounts meeting ran into road blocks at every turn and got no real answers to the question of why a public-private-partnership would be the best option for Nova Scotians,” said Leblanc. “With a P3, our infrastructure is in the hands of private companies who are making a profit off of our need for safer roads.”
The NDP maintains the government “provided no evidence” that a request for federal funding for a traditional public build was ever submitted.
“We have a government who’ve already made the decision that P3s are a good idea and won’t listen to research that shows this won’t be a good deal for the people of Nova Scotia,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “The purpose of building public infrastructure is not to enrich the bottom lines of corporations.”
Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal spokesperson Marla MacInnis said because the province is in the midst of a competitive bidding process, they are limited in what they can share.
“We are obligated not to share financial details or other internal/confidential information that could compromise – or could be seen to compromise – the fairness and integrity of the competitive tendering process,” MacInnis told The Reporter. “Openness and transparency are important and appropriate, but we must not harm the competitive process or government’s negotiating position.” MacInnis said the department will share the financial details once the procurement process is complete.
“A competitive procurement will result in the best value for Nova Scotians.”
A highway twinning study by CBCL in 2016 found that the proposed per kilometer cost – including construction and the purchase of land and water rights – was $6,125,291 for a total cost of $232.4 million for this 38 kilometer stretch of highway from Sutherland’s River to Antigonish.
However, the Nova Scotia Government said that it anticipated the cost of the project as a P3 contract will be $284 million, resulting in a per kilometer increase of 22.6 per cent.