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Protecting public services in Saskatchewan

By: 
Catherine Gendron

August 20, 2015

A grassroots campaign, made up of labour and community groups, has come together in Saskatchewan, with a call for people to protect and take back their public services. The campaign is called Own It!. This statement attracts peoples’ attention, and drives hard at what matters; the fact that Saskatchewan belongs to everyone. Not business, not public-private partnerships, but everyone.

Public services

Saskatchewan is known for its ties to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that aimed to ensure public ownership of the economy. One can’t help but feel the lingering values that helped elect the CCF in Saskatchewan in 1944. The values of strengthening  public services so they are always there for people, and importantly, the value of putting public good before profits, is central to many who live here, and to the Own It! campaign. 

The facts are on our side. While there are those who support privatization, evidence has shown that public services are the better choice. Saskatchewan still maintains public ownership over its telecommunications (SaskTel), car insurance (SGI), and hydro (SaskPower), to name a few. The comparisons in pricing with privatized businesses that offer the same services are stark. For example, big cell phone companies like Bell, Rogers and Telus offer prices are half (or less) of what is offered in Ontario. For example 10G of data with Rogers costs $25 in Saskatchewan; in Ontario, the price jumps to $85 for the same thing. This price difference is unfair, and is because Ontario lacks an equivalent to SaskTel, which sets the standard in Saskatchewan: it’s publically owned, so they are accountable to us and must be made affordable. Not only that, but SaskTel has been consistently awarded with best satisfaction ratings. When people say privatization is cheaper and higher quality, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The perils of privatization

The Own It! campaign is all about talking to people, and listening for what matters to them. Almost always, people talk about how they do not want to leave their kids worse off than they are (alas, we’re already there). They don’t want to see corners cut in our basic needs like health and education either. With privatization, negative affects are sure to occur. Businesses would not invest or purchase something unless they know they can make a profit—and they achieve this by cutting wages, casting out good unionized jobs, putting safety measures in jeopardy, increasing user fees and weakening quality standards.

A prime example would be the recent privatization of laundry services within hospitals. Previously under control by the public, this service was contracted out to a private company in Alberta, named K-Bro Linens.  They cut 300 good paying jobs, and severely cut the wages of those who remain. Horrifyingly, linens are coming back bloodstained, and some have included needles in them. What does this mean for patients and healthcare professionals when “clean” laundry comes back like this? What is also unsettling is that this laundry must now travel across provinces, adding to our unnecessary overuse of fossil fuels.

We have facts on our side, so what encourages the growth of privatization in terms of public support? People can be convinced that privatization is a solution to a problem fs the problem is of great concern. MRI wait times have been growing and Saskatchewan’s Premier, Brad Wall, discussed the privatization of MRI clinics in order to address these concerns. Yet allowing public services to be run to the ground is a tactic for privatization and government officials who support this initiative. Conservative governments tend to favour “small government” when it comes to public services (but not when it comes to the police or military), allowing investments into public services to crumble. As Noam Chomsky said, “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capitol.” Yet privatizing MRI’s won’t work: in privatized MRI clinics in Alberta, wait times are three times as long as they are in Saskatchewan. 

We know the answer is not to privatize; the solution is to invest and strengthen our public services. Supporting the Own it! campaign means supporting our responsibility to look out for each other. It also ensures the people have control in how their basic services are run. Having more money should not mean better access to health care; we must continually remind ourselves that ownership is not for business, it’s for us.

Visit www.ownyoursaskatchewan.ca to join the campaign today. 

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