By Joie Warnock Unifor Western Regional Director
Published in the Leaderpost on November 3, 2016
In Aesop’s Fables, there is a clever story about shortsighted greed that destroys the profitability of an asset. Saskatchewan’s Premier would be wise to reflect on the moral wisdom of the fable about the goose that lays golden eggs.
If you listen to Brad Wall, the provincial deficit that he has racked up (during a strong economy, no less) is the only thing that matters. In his mind, selling off SaskTel—in whole or in part—as soon as possible to plug that hole should be given serious consideration.
But that view ignores the painfully obvious: SaskTel is the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs. He might get one price for the goose, but we’ll forever lose the ongoing value of the golden eggs.
It is SaskTel’s ongoing value to Saskatchewanians that is at stake from a desperate sell-off. Let’s examine the facts about SaskTel’s return for customers and other stakeholders.
The most obvious value to the people in this province is SaskTel’s mobile phone and home internet rates. Saskatchewan prices are the envy of every province in Canada, especially our neighbours in Alberta and Manitoba who pay more for mobile service—in some cases by upwards of $25/month.
Not a SaskTel subscriber? No problem. Your rates from its competitors are only lower because we have a public telecommunications firm that generates fierce competition.
If SaskTel ever got sold, you can kiss those low rates good-bye. A privatized SaskTel removes the unique, public player from our market, and there is no reason to believe that future rates would differ from the jurisdictions mentioned above.
Another golden egg from SaskTel is rural mobile coverage. After privatization, don’t bet that Saskatchewan residents would enjoy the coverage we see today. As a publicly-owned entity, SaskTel prioritizes people, not only profits. This rural infrastructure is just one example of something that would suffer under a giant for-profit firm that, by its very nature, must put shareholders above the needs of the people who live and work here.
Even if Brad Wall wants to pretend for a moment that your phone bills or cell coverage don’t count, privatizing SaskTel forgoes hundreds of millions in future dividends that your local hospital and public school are counting on.
That money never comes back after privatization—just ask Manitobans. Over the past ten years, MTS (privatized in 1997) provided only $1.3 million in revenue for the Government of Manitoba. During the same period, SaskTel delivered dividends to government over six hundred times that amount: $878.2 million. In this light, pursuing privatization isn’t just ill-informed: it is scandalous.
There are other benefits to Crown Corporations, including employment. You can rest assured that a public SaskTel’s headquarters will never move to Calgary. We can sleep well knowing that another telco’s performance on the Toronto Stock Exchange has little bearing on upgrading SaskTel’s network in rural Saskatchewan.
Brad Wall’s lone pitch for giving away SaskTel is to “sell high” so that he can backfill his budget deficit with the 2016 value of the telecommunication achievement built by our parents and grandparents. In other words, sell the goose for short-term gain.
A wiser strategy is to keep SaskTel public and reap the rewards of the golden eggs, the gift that keeps on giving: low prices, great coverage, royalty funding for hospitals and schools, and good local jobs.