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Politicians selling privatization talk about improving services. But few Canadians are persuaded by the pitch. In fact, a large number see privatization as just the latest form of patronage.

In a Vector Poll conducted in November 1998, one in three responded that politicians are pushing privatization in order to “provide contracts to their political supporters”.

A slightly larger number saw “short term savings” as the main objective.

Only one in five identified “improving the quality of public services” as the motive. Almost as many thought “cutting public sector jobs” was the real goal.

It’s the residents of the Atlantic and Alberta who are the most sceptical about politicians’ motives, perhaps because they’ve had the most experience with privatization. They’ve seen who gets the contracts and they’ve seen the results.

In Alberta, 43 per cent of respondents agreed that the politicians’ main goal was to provide contracts to their friends. And in the Atlantic, as many people cited patronage to political cronies as the three other reasons combined.

Young adults, people of colour, low-income families and Reform voters are also likely to see patronage as the prime motive for privatization.

This polling data suggests that we shouldn’t shy away from talking about patronage when we’re talking about privatization. Canadians know that the problem exists and it’s important to point out that with privatization, it will only get worse. The experience in Canada, Britain, New Zealand and many European countries shows that the risk of corruption is huge where corporations stand to win or lose major contracts.