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Where are the Ontario Liberals going with privately-operated jails and youth centers?

When the Liberals were in opposition it seemed fairly clear where they stood on the issue of privately-operated jails and youth facilities in Ontario. In a Nov. 1999 Toronto Star article, then opposition leader Dalton McGuinty said that, “Other jurisdictions have discovered that it costs more in the long run, to say nothing of the fact that, just as a matter of principle, I don’t think we should allow the private sector to earn a dollar because of citizens having been deprived of their liberty.”

Also, while in opposition, the Liberals committed to sending the American operators of the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) in Penetanguishene back to Utah as soon as possible. Definitely, they said, the contract with the Americans would not be extended beyond 2006. Liberal government actions, since their election, would now appear to moving the government toward more privatization of provincial jails.

Monte Kwinter, businessman and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS), has attacked public Correctional Officers and their performance on a number of occasions. At the same time, Monte Kwinter has ignored deaths, injuries and staffing crises at the privately-operated CNCC. Now, contrary to their promises, Mr. Kwinter wants to “compare” CNCC with publicly-operated Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay. In addition, Mr. Kwinter has not released the terms of the contract with the CNCC American operators, has not released the monitors’ reports and has not addressed serious operational and safety issues at CNCC; all promised by the Liberals while in opposition. Mr. Kwinter has been allowing Liberal governments from British Columbia and Quebec to tour the private facility in an apparent attempt to sell and spread the private jail concept to those other provinces.

Further, the Liberal government has not delivered on a promise it made to restore “successor rights” to Crown employees. The Tories had taken away successor rights in 1995 to pave the way for massive privatization and divestment of the Ontario Public Services. Clearly, by not implementing its promise to restore these rights, it remains easy for the government to continue to privatize the Ontario Public Service.

Recently, information has surfaced regarding a committee of Liberal MPPs which includes four cabinet ministers: Sandra Pupatello, Gerard Kennedy, Madeline Meilleur and Chris Bentley. This committee is looking at eliminating whole ministries by integrating them with other ministries, or by transferring what they do to the private sector, or by downloading or uploading to municipal or federal governments.

Perhaps the most direct evidence of where the Liberal government is going is contained in their opening proposals around job security and integrity of our work. The government has demanded:

a) non-OPS workers to be allowed to work in OPS workplaces (easy to privatize parts of workplaces first);

b) take-away of enhanced severance (cheaper to privatize);

c) elimination of termination pay (cheaper to privatize);

d) in place/workforce adjustment redeployment, exit payment, displacement, retraining (cheaper and easier to privatize).

How far might the Liberals go down the Tory prison privatization path? Tory plans revealed in 1999 were to begin privatization with one of the so-called “super jails” (which ended up being CNCC) and then privatizing next the other two (Central East and Maplehurst). In addition, earlier Tory plans called for one of the Toronto facilities to be privatized as well as one or two smaller facilities elsewhere in the province.

With respect to Youth Justice Services, the Tories made no secret of the fact that they felt the whole system should be handed over to the private sector. Despite repeated inquiries on this issue, the Liberals have refused to rule out this option.

Over the next few months, we will need to let the government know that further privatization is out, and that we hold them to their promise to return CNCC to public operation.

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