Mike Harris and the Ontario Conservative Party: Ceos of the Year?

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Private universities, private jails, private health-care and private water testing. What do all of these things have in common? They are all services the Tory government in Ontario has been trying to privatize with some disastrous results and possibly more to come. The Ontario government, lead by Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris, has been slowly trying to do away with services that are currently administered by the province. The ideology in question, privatization, has been a hallmark of the Common Sense revolution. But so far the Tories have been slow to make a success of it. Attempts to privatize the Liquor Control Board and TV Ontario were put on the back burner because of low public support. As well, privatizing hydro utilities has already led to charges of price gouging. But by far the biggest headache is coming from the public outcry over the deaths from the E-coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario. Regardless of who the Tories look to blame, the issue continually keeps coming back to the privatization of water labs by the province. Yet now, with these other efforts stalled or creating political turmoil, the government is pushing ahead with its prison agenda.

The first of the new "superjails" will be opened in Penetanguishine, a small rural community north of Toronto. This jail is slated to be home to the province's first privatized superjail and the issue has created a storm of controversy. In November of 1999, the Ministry of Corrections announced that the new 1200 bed facility would be turned over to the private sector, contrary to what the municipality had been previously told. Wayne Redditt is a member of a local citizen's committee opposed to the privatization venture. "The municipality entered into this deal because they thought they were going be getting a lot of good paying OPSEU (Ontario Public Sector Employees Union) jobs. People were told it was going to be a publicly run facility. Then after the election we are told that it will be private. People here didn't expect to be treated like guinea pig." The Ministry of Corrections has defended themselves by stating there will be a strict code of standards imposed before private corporations are allowed to take control of the prisons. They have gone on to say that there will also be constant monitoring of the prison by ministry officials. This had done very little to quell public fear in the area.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, or OPSEU for short, which includes prison guards in its union, is also unimpressed with impending privatization of the Penetanguishine superjail. They feel the risk to staff in a private prison would be much greater than in a public facility. The Ministry of Corrections was hoping correctional officers from jails that were being replaced by the new superjail would be transferring to the privately run jails. According to OPSEU, only 24 of those correctional officers would transfer to a privately run facility, compared to 175 who would transfer to the Penetanguishine facility if it were still run by the province and the corrections ministry. Provincial correctional officer representative, Barry Scanlon, is not surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the new private jails. "Our members are well aware of the inherent dangers of working in a maximum-security facility. Hardly any of them want to risk their lives in a jail run by a profit-driven corporation. There are just too many opportunities for cutting corners which will endanger lives." There have been numerous horror stories about low pay, short staffing, assaults, murders and escapes from private prisons in the U.S. and Great Britain that will cause experienced public service correctional officers to quit correctional services rather than take the additional risks associated in a privatized facility. Letters have been sent to Premier Mike Harris on the privatization issue from many Ontarians from all walks of life asking him to dispose of the...
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