Introducing the Political Eh-conomy Radio podcast, a new podcast on economic issues in Canada and beyond. The inaugural episode tackles postal banking: why cut valuable services and jobs at Canada Post when it is instead possible to create financial services run by the post office, at the same ensuring the Post’s future sustainability? Canada Post put it best in its secret report: postal banking is a “win-win” – unless of course your aim is to dismantle public services and set the stage for privatization.
The endgame of the current rounds of cuts at Canada Post is some form of privatization. In the previous post, I argued that privatization proceeds differently depending on context. Many factors – I focused on whether a public service provider is exposed to competition and is profitable – can have an impact. The result of replacing public with private provision can be reached through a rapid sell-off, a slow attrition of services, or anything in between. Fortunately, the path to be taken by Canada Post is not yet drawn. Yet while privatization is not an inevitability, the window to effectively prevent it will not stay open for very long. Here are some thoughts on the privatization strategies possible at Canada Post and the anti-privatization strategies to fight them.
There is little doubt that Canada Post’s recently-announced plan to eliminate home delivery, raise prices and lay off thousands of workers is not aimed solely at streamlining operations, but is likely a prelude to future privatization of postal delivery in Canada. Canada Post is ripe for the picking: it is a profitable, socially-useful public enterprise with n updated, nation-wide infrastructure of retail outlets, other properties, vehicles and IT systems. One bad year in 2011, when the post office recorded a loss due in part to rotating strikes and a 2-week lockout, has been used to create an image of unsustainability and justify the current cost-savings plan.
Any future privatization attempt can play out in a number of ways. While we typically think of privatization as a sell-off – the government transferring ownership of a public service provider into private hands – the exact nature of the transition between public and private service provision can take on a number of unique forms. Breaking a concept as broad, and at times nebulous, as privatization into more concrete and discrete strategies not only makes it easier to analyze particular episodes, but also aids in developing effective opposition.
I propose one way to differentiate between privatization strategies that is simple and universal. Four possible strategies emerge based on answers to two questions. First, are the majority of operating expenses of the public service to be privatized covered by internal revenue or government funds? Second, is the public service provider exposed to private competition before privatization? Looking at these two questions simultaneously produces the following grid of privatization strategies that can be used to assess what may lie in store for Canada Post and compare this to other privatizations, in particular those of postal services in other countries.
The past few days have not been great for public services in Canada. Canada Post will be phasing out home delivery of mail. Expansion of the Canada Pension Plan was scuttled at the finance ministers’ meeting. In the grand scheme of things, however, these are not extreme cutbacks. It’s not as if Canada Post is to be dismantled completely or our public pension fund to run completely dry. This government has long brought us death by a thousand paper cuts and those from the past days are just a continuation of the strategy.
This kind of insourcing refers to taking a collective public service and making it into an individual responsibility. Perhaps James Moore recently summed up the insourcing philosophy best, “Certainly we want to make sure that kids go to school full bellied, but is that always the government’s job to be there to serve people their breakfast?” Serve your own breakfast, get your own mail, don’t wait too long to die.