Privatization or birds of prey?

Privatization could jeopardize community investments

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Polls place both the Progressive Conservative (PC) and Liberal parties ahead of the ruling NDP. Both challenging parties seem to have much common ground in huge budget cuts, tax cuts, and giving public property and services away to private business. After comparing both parties’ platforms, a clear shift in public policy from public interest to private business interests is looming. 

The Liberals have promised to privatize liquor sales following Alberta’s example, rejecting the idea that public control of alcohol protects public interest through responsible sales. This is in spite of the recommendation by a 2013 study, endorsed by MADD Canada, that Manitoba’s provincial liquor board model should continue. 

Some Liberal promises are ill-conceived, or run-of-the-mill policies based on programs that already exist. Their rent freeze proposal mimics the Rent-Assist program already in place to supplement tenants who can’t pay rent. And their “guaranteed minimum income” pilot project is little more than a vague theory to be tested in an undisclosed area with no assigned budget. 

The PCs, on the other hand, promise to release “social impact bonds,” (SIBs) which will place social services in the hands of private financial organizations. This is bad news because the results of many programs can only be measured in the long run, and a lack of immediate impact could mean funding cuts. This is known as commodification of public services. If there is no profit to be made, there will be a scaling-down of programs. 

A whole range of community-based programs such as after-school programs, community safety and health programs, programs for the disabled, job-seekers and newcomers, are currently publicly funded. They could be at risk of being eliminated or downgraded to volunteer-based initiatives if they are not profitable under the direction of private financial organizations. 

There is no doubt that some programs like Child and Family Services need total reengineering, and some issues facing northern indigenous communities need to be addressed in a better way. 

However, Manitoba has become a powerhouse of social programs and public services that place the public interest as a priority. Poverty reduction became law with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act in 2012, and there is an official poverty reduction plan in place. Social and co-op housing are now government priorities with 13,000 social housing units in Manitoba and over 200 housing co-ops in Winnipeg. Housing grants to fix roofs and rooming houses are available to owners. 

Community development is also delivered through “Neighbourhoods Alive!” funding for community associations, women centres, and community-based organizations that run programs for indigenous peoples, immigrants, people with disabilities, seniors, and youth. 

Privatization of public services and huge budget cuts will jeopardize the powerful engine of social programs that help cities and their residents keep afloat and remain vibrant. In Manitoba, social programs and their improvement are best left in the hands of the province. 

Reinaldo Contreras is a second year student in the University of Winnipeg’s Urban and Inner City Studies program and former director of El Latino Newspaper of Alberta.

Published in Volume 70, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 4, 2016)

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