February 3rd, 2020

Liberals’ P3 plan for wood heating systems risky

HALIFAX- The NDP Caucus is raising concerns about the Liberals’ plan to use a public-private partnership (P3) model for new wood heating systems for public buildings. The concept of developing local heating systems using wood was proposed in the Lahey Report as an option for diversifying the forestry sector.

“While we support the implementation of recommendations from the Lahey report, P3 projects take control out of the public’s hands. When we’re investing in public infrastructure we have to know that decisions will be made with the public’s interest at heart,” said Susan Leblanc, NDP Transportations and Infrastructure Renewal spokesperson. “Using a P3 model could mean that the public will pay for a new heating system, but won’t own it.”

The Liberal government has repeatedly used P3s to hide details about major infrastructure projects, including the QEII redevelopment project and the twinning of Hwy 104. P3s have also been criticized for being more expensive, less transparent, and less adaptable than traditional building models.

According to the Request for Supplier Qualifications, a private company would design, build, own, operate, and maintain a wood heating system for select public buildings. However in the government’s press release about this they only mention design-build-operate. The public buildings would enter into long-term contracts to purchase the heat from these systems.

“Using small scale wood heat for public buildings is one option to create a new market for low-value wood, but rather than using P3 we should look at partnerships with municipalities, recreation facilities, or other options,” said Lisa Roberts, NDP Lands and Forestry spokesperson. “There is continued concern about the state of the forestry industry and the shift to ecological forestry after the Liberal government’s slow response to the closure of the Northern Pulp mill. Given the current context in the forestry sector, using a P3 model where the government has little control seems like the wrong choice.”