Friday, May 20, 2011

Under the public radar privatization

By Simon Enoch
The Leader-Post
May 20, 2011

Murray Mandryk -in an otherwise thoughtful column that outlines the hypocrisy of the Saskatchewan Party's concern regarding the use of SGEU union dues -makes the claim that there is no basis for the claim by Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU) that the Sask. Party has a privatization agenda.

It is true the Sask. Party has been extremely careful to soothe public suspicions it harbours a privatization agenda, given the widely acknowledged fact the party's failure to win the 2003 provincial election hinged on the party's reluctance to rule out privatization of the Crowns.

While there have been no outright privatizations of the major crowns akin to the Grant Devine era, a closer look at Sask. Party policy towards the Crowns and other public services might lead one to believe the Sask. Party has adopted a strategy of creeping privatization that remains under the public radar.

The government has restricted the operations of the Crowns through its "Saskatchewan First" policy that forced the Crowns to divest their out-of-province assets (profitable or not) and discouraged the Crowns from "competing with the private sector" within the province. This resulted in the sale of Heritage Gas, Navigata, DirectWest Canada, the Hospitality Network, closure of more than 20 per cent of SaskPower walk-in offices, contracting out of SGI licence plates, SaskTel operator services and SaskTel Max installation services, to name but a few of the government's divestment of Crown assets.

Perhaps this does not constitute evidence of a privatization agenda for Mandryk. For others, however, it might appear quite compelling proof of the vision the Sask. Party has for Saskatchewan's Crown corporations.

Enoch is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' office in Saskatchewan.

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