Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why "free enterprise" needs a little less freedom

Big Steve was in Lac-Megantic the other day to announce a $95 million gift from the Canadian taxpayer towards cleaning up the mess left by feisty free-enterpriser Fast Eddie Burkhardt's killer crude train. If you read the fine print you find that it's actually a matching grant; the Canadian taxpayer will match the Quebec taxpayers up to a maximum of $95 million.

In other words, taxpayers are committed to cleaning up Mr. Burkhardt's mess one way or the other. Harper is just giving notice that after the clean-up cost passes $190 million the Quebec tax-payers are on their own.

Where is Fast Eddie in all this?

Long gone.

Meanwhile, up Yellowknife way, the staggeringly expensive Giant Mine clean-up continues apace, or rather at a snails pace. That was another textbook case of a feisty free-enterpriser, in fact a series of them, making hay while the sun was shining. Then one day the gold was gone and the jobs were gone and the free-enterprisers were gone and all that's left is 237,000 tons of arsenic trioxide.

The estimated billion dollar clean-up isn't even a clean-up; it's a containment. The actual clean-up is being left to future generations of taxpayers.

That's the trouble with free-enterprisers. They're only around for the good times. They make hay while the sun shines. They enjoy the adulation of the business press for a few years, and when the going gets tough and the clouds move in, they're outta there, leaving the public to clean up their mess.

There will be plenty more disasters coming down the pike and the pipeline in the future. Who do you think will pick up the tab for decommissioning those privatized nuclear reactors in Ontario? Bruce Power bought the project to generate profits, not to clean up when the profits are gone. The tax-payers of Ontario paid for that project when the private sector first built it, pay for the enormous cost over-runs every month on their hydro bills, and will pay for it again several times over when it's time to decommission.

You can be sure that the folks pocketing the profits today will be long gone by the time that happens.

So given that the public will be paying for all this anyway, maybe the public should demand a little more say well before we're left with just the mess.

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