Privatization: The Vampire of Public Service

by Victor Morgan

The word “Vampire” may seem harsh or macabre when speaking about economic issues, but when looking at privatization objectively, it becomes clear how striking the similarities are. Both feed off systems that are not their own, stealing what isn’t theirs to grow fat and powerful. Both lie to lull you into a false sense of security, making their targets vulnerable and too passive to resist them. If privatization is a Vampire then austerity is the scent of blood that draws the predator in. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Canadians are facing another round of cruel and needless austerity.

Premier Andrew Furey and his “recovery team” lead by privatization pioneer Moya Green are keen on de-funding and selling off as much as they can slice off, even going so far as to hire Rothschild & co. to “assess” the provinces finances and assets. Chief targets for them now are Provincially held Oil and Gas assets (Nalcor Energy), Provincial Registries (everything from motor Registration to registries for companies and private properties/deeds, Healthcare, the NLC (Newfoundland Liquor Corporation which is a crown Corporation) and education – both K-12 and crown post-secondary education such as MUN.

Healthcare, in its current pre-austerity state, is so woefully underfunded that many people wait years for simple procedures like knee replacements, ingrown toenail removals, x-rays, consultations and much more. According to the most recent data we have, over 90,000 people, one-fifth of the total population in the province, are without a family. In this author’s own experience, this means waiting nearly 24 months for access to a simple procedure that would, according to my family doctor, take less than 10 minutes to complete. Mental healthcare has become so forgotten that it can take years to get so much as a phone call back from the publicly-funded service, and funding for the beloved “Blue Door” program, a system of support and protection for sex workers, is being completely cut. Nationally, the ICU bed count has been wiped out (Canada’s ICU bed count in 1981 was 6.9 per thousand residents, in 2019 that number was an insulting 2.5 country wide) and while Newfoundland and Labrador has a per capita physician count in line with most other provinces, it matters little when the vast majority of our population is aging and require more long-term and complex care than most other provinces. Many facets of the healthcare system have never been public; medications and dental care are two often cited examples. Many seniors have an enormous cost in medication each month, in some cases far exceeding their total monthly income. This has led to rationing and in some cases an unwillingness to purchase or refill needed medications. it is beginning to feel as if we are being gas lit by “leaders” who continue to claim that the current health systems work, and that help is available for those who need it when clearly this is untrue. 

A reasonable person may think that the way to fix this is to fund healthcare to a greater extent. Yet according to the provincial government – and the capitalists that own them – this thinking would be wrong. According to the province’s “leaders,” the actual solution is to further defund services and sell off all assets which might be profitable all while telling us everything is fine! Hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador received $100,000,000 in funding in 2021 specifically for personal protective equipment and measures in response to increasing COVID-19 case numbers. This sudden influx of resources came at a time when there were between 5-10 active cases province-wide for months, which raises the question: why? It seems the reason is those in power had decided on reducing and removing pandemic restrictions on those entering the province despite knowing that the spread of COVID-19 would become far worse when they did. 

For some perspective, at the height of year one of the pandemic, N.L. had a miraculously low total case count of 266, with most of these cases being recoveries, alongside only 7 deaths and a handful of active cases. As of last month, N.L. is sitting at 24,000 cases, with thousands of those being active and 80 deaths. The acquiescence of provincial and local governments to pressure from companies that rely on tourism for their profits was both spineless and short-sighted, as the ongoing economic harm of this decision far surpasses whatever small benefits were reaped long ago. Due to the lessening of travel restrictions and resultant spike in COVID-19 cases, I lost 4 members of my family. These people had children, grandchildren, wives who loved them, and now the only place they can visit them is a graveyard. My loved ones died needlessly and would likely still be here today were it not for the special exemptions given to “turn around” workers, and the lifting of the “Atlantic Bubble”. All our leaders would have had to do to save their lives was say no to putting profit before people. 

Healthcare is extremely important to you and me and every other member of the working class and oppressed populations, but not to the capitalist elite. The only importance healthcare has to them is how much profit can be extracted from expensive health insurance plans and ever increasing drug prices. Private health insurance providers have reported record profits during the pandemic, with Anthem increasing profits 900% in just the third quarter of 2021, and UnitedHealth group expecting a revenue of $300,000,000,000 (yes, 300 billion dollars) this year alone. The goal of underfunding public healthcare is to lend credence to the argument that “public Healthcare doesn’t work, so why fund it?” and legitimize sold-out politicians who point and say “look at the emergency room wait times! Look at the waiting lists for surgery! How horrible this all is!”, as if these same politicians weren’t the masterminds behind this assault on public health and the public good in the first place. Under this framing, massive multibillion dollar corporations are presented as infallible, bastion of virtue, innovation, and efficiency which always do what’s best for the public and for humanity. They are goading people into believing that a private healthcare system will solve all problems. Yet much like a vampire’s offer of eternal youth, this purchase comes at the cost of life itself. And too like a Vampire, privatization can’t get in unless it is welcomed. Political leaders must open the door to this scourge, it cannot force its way in but must instead be invited.

Along with the giant bloody target on our Healthcare in the province, political leaders are targeting a second pillar of the public sector: education. Memorial University, an institution which has long been of great benefit to the younger generation by helping those unable to afford extremely expensive post-secondary schooling still have a chance at life and career, is raising its prices. Memorial University had its tuition frozen 20 years ago, guaranteeing that future students of a poor and failing province could afford an education. However, within the present neoliberal ethos governing Canada, which focuses more on corporate bailouts and handouts, the price of public education will be skyrocketing, from just over $2500 to $6000! This increase is due to the roll back of $70,000,000 (70 million dollars) in government funding. According to the President of Memorial University Vianne Timmons, who spoke with VOCM, Memorial University expects to reduce enrollment by 20 in response to their funding being gutted. Both provincial and federal governments clearly do not care about access to public post-secondary education in N.L. and desire to force people into private education and massive student debt. There are, of course, loans in place to “help” pay for this massive increase in cost, at an interest rate higher than the average Canadian mortgage mind you. Isn’t it such a boon for the province that our elite and leadership can afford the education system, even if we cannot?

Our current Liberal government has dashed the hopes that education would help draw people to N.L. and retain those who thought of leaving. Could they have taken a little from the pile of $280,000,000 they gave oil and gas corporations? Yes, definitely, they could have easily afforded to continue funding N.L. education instead of throwing money at an industry like oil and gas that has historically abused and stolen from the province and destroyed its fisheries. Once again, we hit on that theme of massive corporations being more important than people.

The N.L. government is seeking in its dark and villainous path to sell out even more of our resources and assets. The conversations and comments to sell the NLC are a clear example of just how desperate they are to strip our province of any public service or public profit. The NLC brings in around $300,000,000 a year in profit, the private elite owners of political “leaders” can smell these profits and want nothing more than to make an argument for why selling it off and selling out future generations is “totally worth it” and “definitely not a bad idea”.

Make no mistake, governments at all levels are selling the car to pay for gas!

Speaking of gas, provincially-held oil and gas resources are another huge target for privatization according to the contract between Rothschild & Co. Keep in mind that the province of N.L. only retains 4.9% of the total oil and gas resources as crown resources. In selling off oil and gas, the Liberal government seeks to sell Nalcor Energy, which is a crown corporation that also owns Muskrat Falls, the biggest hydro energy project the province has ever seen and which was designed to reduce electricity prices for those that live in the province. Though it is not directly outlined in the contract that Muskrat Falls will fall to private hands, it stands to reason that all holdings of Nalcor Energy will be sold off in phase two of Rothschild & Co.’s contract with the province.

With respect to the contract itself, it is written to be executed in two parts: part one will see the assessment and valuation of the assets of the province, while part two, which is the more aggressively capitalist section of the contract, will see Rothschild & Co. take up the task of marketing the assets to be sold off to private owners and negotiations of such sale. For the duration of part one, Rothschild & Co. will be paid $500,000 dollars a month, with a bonus of $2 million upon completion. As for part two, that part of the contract has been completely redacted. Two entire pages of the contract is being kept from the public by its own government. Can you tell who’s side they are on yet?

With this contract looking more like a deal with the Devil than a decision made by our leadership to better the province, I am guessing that the redacted part of the contract likely states that Rothschild & Co. reserve a percentage of the purchase amount for themselves. This is purely speculation but such conditions are a very common stipulation when companies do broker work of this kind. If this is the case, Rothschild & Co. stand to profit directly from the death of the province’s public services. The contract also explicitly states that payments Rothschild & Co. receive cannot under any circumstances be reduced by any means and are free from all taxes and fees. Any reduction incurred on these payments is to be subsidized by the public. The province is contracted to repay Rothschild & Co. any loss on these payments, is liable for any legal fees incurred in the entire process of carrying out this contracted work, and must also pay any damages and costs incurred if Rothschild & Co. are taken to court as a result of any part of this process, including but not limited to; any and all court related costs, transportation, shelter and food expenditures, counselling for employees, and any others expenses which may arise while working for the province. None of this is included in the $500,000 a month the province is already paying them as all of this is exclusive to its own circumstance. Make no mistake, this is a deal with a bad actor, a dark covenant that may as well have been sealed with our very blood. 

Austerity got us here. Austerity and privatization got us a failing economy, a healthcare system in disarray, and an education system that has become a cruel joke. Like Vampires, the elite who seek to privatize are circling our public services ready to drain the lifeblood of the province. After public services have been defunded and cut as much as is possible (and then some), “leaders” will make the argument to siphon further, citing the failure of public services. Lives in Newfoundland and Labrador are about to get a lot more expensive, as happens every single time anything has been privatized in any country. Privatization and austerity cannot be allowed to destroy our home more than it has. The public must stand strong and oppose this horrible agenda and dark menace with all its strength, using all tools available: email and phone call campaigns, protests, and strikes. Those in the Atlantic Region have weathered many storms and must meet this challenge with the same resolve. The darkness will pass from the sky once again so long as we outlast it. We cannot let the Monsters devour us. We must not let them in.