Looking for Solidarity: Oceanex and the OP Trust

by Tom Rouse, retired truck driver

The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council (NLEC) rages about the benefits of Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) after commissioning a report by two Memorial University professors. P3s are NLEC’s answer to what it calls a perfect storm of shrinking government revenue and increasing demand for services from an aging population. But there is mounting evidence and studies suggesting otherwise about P3s.

Ontario would be a good place to analyze P3 plunders and squandered shared assets. Ask OPSEU President Smokey Thomas about P3s and I’m sure he’ll inform you about the disaster’s of Highway 407, ORNGE, or EHealth. The NLEC talks about better outcomes for citizens and greater value for taxpayers dollars with P3s. Smokey will tell you “public services swerve into the ditch once the private sector gets behind the driver’s wheel”.

OP Trust and Oceanex

Thomas and Hugh O’Reilly, President and CEO of the OPSEU Pension Trust (OP Trust), recently gave presentations as witnesses to the Standing Committee on Ontario’s Finance and Economic Affairs. OP Trust is a jointly-sponsored fully-funded defined benefit plan sponsored by OPSEU and the Ontario Government. The Ontario government appoints half the board, OPSEU appoints the other half. OPSEU has over 86,000 members in the plan and $17.5 Billion in assets.

015OP Trust also has investments in Canadian Infrastructure such as Oceanex in Newfoundland. Oceanex brings over half of freight to the island of Newfoundland. There has been some recent reports of Oceanex filing a Federal Court Application to cut the $136 million dollar subsidy Marine Atlantic gets from Transport Canada. Marine Atlantic is a crown corporation offering a public service for the island and offers a service that is a constitutional guarantee under the terms of union when Newfoundland joined Canada. Seventy percent of Maritime Atlantic’s shipping is freight. The rest is passengers.

Oceanex and its employees

On the labour front, truck drivers for Oceanex have had to give up their defined benefit pension for a defined contribution pension. One former Newfoundland Premier knows the difference between the two plans when talking about retirement security. Meanwhile, the local International Longshoreman’s Association maintenance members have an expired collective bargaining agreement for over a year now. The Longshoreman’s union can’t even do their hiring shape ups on the dock anymore, after doing them on the docks since 1903 a long time before Newfoundland Labrador joined the Canadian Family.

Oceanex’s bargaining units, which are affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress, wouldn’t expect to get much resistance from OPSEU appointees to OP Trust’s board of directors to put some pressure on Oceanex. They don’t expect the same from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s appointees.

Smokey is in a continuous battle with the Wynne government over public services and bargaining rights. His union recently signed an agreement for Ontario’s correctional officers but some feel they gave in too soon to binding arbitration and being tagged with essential services. Ms. Wynne also seems keen on privatizing HydroOne even though the public is against it and economists have claimed it will cost Ontario taxpayers more money when it’s privatized.

The P3 program in Ontario for Infrastructure hasn’t gone that well either with it costing taxpayers more than $8 billion dollars extra than if they built it themselves. Is it the same people procuring dam projects in Newfoundland Labrador? Ms. Wynne has had thoughts of privatizing LCBO as well.

OP Trust and the public good

Hugh O’Reilly suggests that OP Trust has a responsible investing program that incorporates environmental, social, governance considerations into their investment activities. He also suggests that OP Trust is a stable source of capital for infrastructure projects around the globe. We hope OP Trust can contribute to the public good of Newfoundland Labrador more than individuals in the past like John C. Doyle and John Shaheen.

But when the weather is bad Marine Atlantic doesn’t move. Oceanex moves always bad weather or not, so maybe the Maritime Atlantic subsidy should be split? But if you take away a subsidy for a constitutional guarantee under confederation you might inflame the nationalist movement more so in Newfoundland and Labrador. If Oceanex gets the subsidy it would be like a P3 then wouldn’t it? So Smokey is against P3s in Ontario, but he is for it elsewhere so long as the OP Trust’s returns are good…even if it goes against another province’s constitutional guarantees? Who wants to pay higher grub prices here, when the Feds won’t let you fish anymore?

Why should Newfoundland union members think it’s audacious to ask for and keep some of the same benefits that OPSEU members are entitled to in Upper Canada? Is there a difference in the aristocracy in Ontario or Newfoundland and Labrador? Why can’t public sector pension plans like OP Trust advance the interests of unionized workers in Newfoundland and Labrador? Otherwise, it seems to be a perfect hypocrisy.

In Solidarity,

Tom Rouse, retired truck driver

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One thought on “Looking for Solidarity: Oceanex and the OP Trust

  1. Good article.
    P3s are bad news for workers, pensioners, etc.
    The problem is that workers’ pension plans are handcuffed by a political-economic system which demands that these plans carry out their “fiduciary responsibility” to maximize return on investment.
    The real question here is “How do workers gain control of this capital”?

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