The fightback against the privatization of federal infrastructure has gained momentum after rallies were held across Canada this month.
On January 12, Unifor members joined the International Longshore Workers’ Union (ILWU) in support of the Maritime Workers Day of Action, with marches in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Montreal and Toronto. The rallies protested the sale of federal infrastructure (such as rail lines, airports, and ports) and other recommendations stemming from a report authored by former Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson.
The report by Emerson recommends widespread privatization rather than public investments to keep critical infrastructure in the hands of government and it has guided the Trudeau Liberals’ thinking on upgrading federal infrastructure with funds raised by selling public assets.
During public consultations in 2016 on the future of transportation infrastructure in Canada, Unifor argued that privatization won’t save money in the long-term. Research has consistently shown that privatization leads to higher costs for the public, lower-paying jobs, and reduced public oversight and safety.
“Canada’s transportation sector is a source of good, long-term jobs,” said Jerry Dias, National President. “We’ll fight any privatization scheme that puts private profit ahead of public safety and secure employment.”
Despite the criticism, a plan released by the federal government in November prioritizes foreign ownership and relies heavily on the new Canada Infrastructure Bank, something Unifor says is simply a fundraising scheme for privatization.
Unifor’s partners at the ILWU have launched a campaign to oppose the Emerson report due in part to the fact that it recommends dismantling “cabotage”—the legal framework that ensures maritime work in Canada is done by Canadian workers on Canadian equipment. The ILWU says that change alone could kill 12,000 good jobs.
Unions aren’t the only ones who are deeply skeptical about infrastructure privatization and the concern about privatization is not limited to the federal transportation sector.
In Vancouver, both the city council and the airport authority are publicly opposing airport privatization. In an op ed to the Globe and Mail in December 2016, Air Canada CEO Caelan Rovinescu expressed his opposition to privatizing airports, citing the increased costs to individual air travelers almost guaranteed under a privatized model.