Lining private pockets doesn’t fill potholes

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien which appeared in The Daily Gleaner

Is it just me, or is everyone in New Brunswick upset about our road conditions? Just this morning I hit a pothole so big I worried my car’s engine was going to fall out.

We can all agree that roads are bad. But the question is why are our roads so bad?

Since the 1990s, New Brunswick governments have been contracting out road building and repairs to private companies. These were built on the promise of building better roads, but also on providing cheaper maintenance.

The cost of private maintenance has been high, both in poorly maintained roads and with more dangerous roads. In terms of accidents and fatalities, our province’s highways remain more dangerous than the national average. The most recent figures show that while the rest of Canada had a 5.4 per cent decrease in highway fatalities that year, New Brunswick had a 16 per cent increase in highway fatalities during that same period.

On top of roads being much less safe when maintained by privately run companies, the anticipated savings didn’t even materialize. Quite the opposite in fact; the prices of highway maintenance increased, especially in recent years. For example, on the MRDC-run highway from Fredericton to Moncton, the cost the province pays in maintenance almost doubled from 2011 to 2014, from $13 million a year to $24 million a year. When the rest of the province is being squeezed fiscally, these numbers should be of great concern to the government.

Roughly half of the budget for roads in this province is going to the three privately owned highways. The other half covers the 18,000 kilometres of roads that are maintained by the province. This doesn’t seem to me like a fair division of the budget.

These privately owned companies such as MRDC are making huge profits. It’s estimated that some 15 to 25 per cent of the money that our province is paying them is what they are making in profit, and this money is flowing out of the province.

Why are we giving tax incentives to private companies when we can provide better quality services to the people of New Brunswick and create jobs at the same time?

Services to New Brunswickers are suffering. These profits are lining the pockets of out-of-province of private companies when they could be going to repairing potholes and plowing roads.

In the rest of Canada and around the world, outsourcing peaked in the late 1990s and services that were once contracted out to private companies are now being contracted back in to public services to save money. And it’s working.

It’s time that the government of New Brunswick got with the times and put the quality of our roads and the livelihoods of those working on them ahead of the profits of large companies from out of province. It’s time that New Brunswick ends the practice of outsourcing and invests in our province.

Rosaire L’Italien is the interim leader of the New Brunswick NDP.