Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, on Aug. 30, 2014. The Manitoba government is promising to build schools in conjunction with the private sector while avoiding the problems experienced with similar deals in other provinces.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Manitoba is promising it will avoid problems other provinces have had in partnering with the private sector to build schools, but critics question why they cannot be built the traditional way and warn of the lack of detail in the government’s plan.

“We’re very conscious of the decisions, and I would say mistakes that have sometimes been made in other jurisdictions,” James Teitsma, minister for government services, said in an interview.

“We don’t want to make mistakes here.”

The Progressive Conservative government announced last month a plan to build nine schools under a public-private partnership model, commonly called a P3 system.

The nine schools are to be awarded under a single tender, and the developer would be in charge of ongoing major maintenance, such as roofs and ventilation systems, for up to 30 years as well as the initial construction.

Teitsma said the approach will save money and let the schools be constructed faster than if the government built the schools the traditional way – an important factor in areas in and around Winnipeg where the population is growing quickly.

A single developer can move construction workers from site to site as needed in an efficient way, he said. Having the developer responsible for major maintenance work included will encourage better initial construction and avoid any surprise big-ticket costs for school divisions during the life of the maintenance agreement, he added.

“Much like an extended warranty or something along those lines, (we) are pre-purchasing all the major maintenance components,” Teitsma said.

And while the 30-year agreement may appear similar to a lease, the schools will be fully publicly owned, he promised.

To date, there is little documentation to back up Teitsma’s plan. The government only last week issued a request for consultants interested in serving as technical advisers for the project. Contracts that would spell out conditions for the private developers have not been drawn up.

That has raised concerns with the Opposition New Democrats.

“We’ve been told that they’re going to work the details out later,” NDP education critic Nello Altomare said.

“And for something as important as a school that’s a community hub, we can’t work the details out later. We need to have them now.”

P3 schools have stirred up controversy in other provinces, partly due to the way private developers can sometimes set conditions for how the schools are used.

In Saskatchewan in 2017, staff at a handful of P3 schools were told they could not open windows during the first year of the schools’ operation. In Nova Scotia in the 1990s, some P3 school developers limited after-hours access to the buildings for sports and community groups.

Nova Scotia’s Auditor-General in 2010 found developers were receiving more money for some services than they were paying the school boards that had been subcontracted the work, costing roughly $52 million over 20 years.

Teitsma said he intends to write the contracts in way to ensure access to the schools is fully protected and costs are controlled.

He also promises to ensure that any restrictions on what can be done inside the buildings will be minimal, but admits there may be some.

“We can’t have certain things going on in the building that are going to compromise the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, right, and then unfairly obligate the proponent to, say replace the HVAC system every four years because we started doing these particular chemistry (experiments) and you corrode all the pipes,” Teitsma said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe