Help keep Manitoba highway snow clearing and maintenance public! Send the Premier and the Minister a message. 

As the Manitoba government continues down a risky path of privatizing public services, MGEU President, Michelle Gawronsky says that further privatization and cuts at Manitoba Infrastructure and the province’s Vehicle and Equipment Management Agency (VEMA) raise significant safety concerns heading into winter.

The government has cut staffing and resources over the past few years, making it difficult for those who remain in the department and the agency to maintain services.

Meanwhile, the Pallister government privatized seasonal road work and hired a private consultant to review Manitoba Infrastructure’s operations. The government’s privatization push took the next big step last week, when they quietly posted several requests for proposals for private contractors to bid on snow clearing services for the 2019/2020 season.

Gawronsky responded by sending a letter to the Minister of Infrastructure, Ron Schuler, questioning the bid and sharing members’ concerns about the current shortage of staff and equipment available throughout the province.

“Members are telling me there are fewer graders in our highway yards and in our shops. The Minister needs to be straight with Manitobans. Where has the equipment gone? Is it already being sold off to private companies? He owes Manitobans an explanation.”

Gawronsky says that if the Province believes they can save money by privatizing the service, they need not look very far for an example of the risks associated with this decision.

Ontario privatized winter highway maintenance in 2000, even though Ontario’s Auditor General at the time warned that “outsourcing may ultimately result in a significant increase in the cost of highway maintenance for these contracts.”

Years later, when the quality of the privatized service was called into question by taxpayers, a different Auditor General conducted a review. In a 2015 Special Report, the Auditor General noted that efforts by Ontario’s Highways Ministry to save money after 2009 resulted in a procurement model that focused on the lowest bid by private-sector contractors, and reduced the quality of the service.

Contractors started using less salt, sand, and anti-icing liquids on highways, which they patrolled less often in order to win provincial bids. 

“The end result was that drivers on Ontario’s highways no longer experienced the safer winter road conditions they had been accustomed to,” cited the report.

Ontario has since fined snow clearing companies for their failures to properly deliver the service, but, as one CBC report noted, it’s been difficult for the province to collect on these fines as the companies can tie up the process with appeals.

Gawronsky says that given the experiences in Ontario, the Pallister Government should rethink their efforts to privatize the service here in Manitoba.

“Honestly, we get great value from the public service we provide, so why would the Premier want to mess with that? Privatizing our highway snow clearing would not reap the financial savings this government is looking for and it certainly wouldn’t improve the quality of the service,” added Gawronsky.

“If you can save money as a private contractor by spreading less salt, and saving your grader blades by not scraping to bare pavement, then you’re going to make those decisions that help your bottom line. Our members are focused on doing a quality job to keep Manitobans safe. We have to keep the service they provide public and the Premier needs to start funding the service properly.”

Help keep Manitoba highway snow clearing and maintenance public! Send the Premier and the Minister a message.