Q. What’s wrong with privatization?
A. Nothing’s wrong with the private sector if you’re buying a pair of socks or a bar of soap. Plenty’s wrong with privatization if you treat our hospitals and our water supply like products to be sold for a profit.
Privatization threatens the quality and safety of public services and reduces our access and control. Taxpayers pay more and communities lose good jobs.
The services we have today aren’t perfect. But at least we have the opportunity to change and improve them. Once they become a corporate product, we lose control. You just have to look at American health care. Or British water. Corporations will buy the politicians and bamboozle the media to protect their cash cows – our valued services.
Q. But isn’t the private sector cheaper?
A. In our experience, the promised savings are a shell game. And if you look at the reports of auditors-general, you’ll see they agree.
Any savings come from fewer staff earning lower wages. Yet as front-line staff are cut, executive salaries jump and profits grow so in the end, the public pays the same or more for inferior services.
Besides, there are a lot of hidden costs to privatization. After a service has been contracted out, costs escalate quickly, with the taxpayer covering any losses and corporations pocketing tidy profits.
Q. If governments lack the funds, why not turn to the private sector?
A. Let’s not forget that the federal government and most provincial governments have a budget surplus. So it’s not a question of not having funds. It’s a question of how they choose to spend them – directly, assuring quality services or by privatizing, boosting corporate profits.
It’s true municipal governments are cash-strapped and facing some hefty infrastructure bills. Municipalities were hit hard by the down loading madness, from Ottawa to the pro-vinces to the municipalities, and something has to be done.
But privatization isn’t the way to ensure there’s adequate funding for local services. On the contrary, it just leads to higher costs and loss of local control.
Q. But we can’t increase public debt, can we?
A. When we’re building schools or water treatment plants or roads, it makes more sense to publicly finance projects than rely on dubious joint ventures with the private sector.
Governments – even the most cash-strapped of governments – can borrow money more cheaply than private corporations. And the term of government bonds is normally much shorter. So it makes no sense to pay more through lease arrangements when you can save money while protecting public ownership.
Q. Aren’t you just trying to protect jobs?
A. There’s nothing wrong with protecting jobs.
The whole economy – private sector included – benefits from good jobs. This is especially true in small communities and for women, for whom public sector jobs remain a lifeline. And Canadians recognize this. That’s why three quarters of Canadians are concerned that privatization means good jobs in the local economy will be lost.
But it’s not just about jobs. It’s about who controls the services we count on. At the end of the day, privatization replaces good jobs with McJobs and quality public services with cash cows ready to be milked by their transna-
tional owners. That’s not the kind of country Canadians want to live in.
Q. I can understand why doctors and teachers should be in the public sector but why can’t you contract out cleaning or kitchen staff?
A. When you work in a hospital or a school, you see how important it is that all the staff work as a team. You see how much the quality of one service affects another.
So for example, in a hospital, where every day you find new strains of resistant bacteria, the quality of the housekeeping can be a matter of life and death. And you see that if patients aren’t receiving nutritious meals that are fresh and tasty, their health suffers. When you contract out these services, staff turnover skyrockets and quality and safety are jeopardized.
In schools, you see that if you contract out cleaning, again turnover increases. So you have strangers working in our schools and you find that the lunch room tables aren’t properly cleaned, placing the health and safety of our children at risk.
Q. So are you opposed to all privatization or just some?
A. Some things are better done by the private sector and we accept that. But just as we don’t want public sector socks, we also don’t want private sector schools.
Do we oppose a private construction company building a road or a school under contract? No. Public infrastructure has always involved private enterprise and that makes sense.
But some things are simply not for sale. Schools. Hospitals. Social services. Roads. Libraries. Water. Hydro. They are not for sale. They are not for lease. They’re not ‘profit centres’ to be managed like a Burger King. In these sectors, yes, we are opposed to all privatization.