Experience with privatized services increases support for public ownership

“That people with extensive experience of both publicly controlled and privatized services want to reverse privatization is a damning indictment of privatization.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (22 Jan. 2018) — Over the last 4 decades privatization proponents have looked to Britain for bad ideas. Starting with Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980s, a large number of public services were privatized. Many of the privatization schemes we’re fighting in Canada today, like P3s, were dreamt up by Thatcher’s Conservatives.

Because people in Britain have been using privatized public services for decades, recent polling on public ownership makes interesting reading. If the privatization industry's claims about the benefits of privatization are correct, support for public ownership should be very low. Instead, the reverse is true. People want many privatized services brought back under public control, and support appears to be growing.

“What the high level of support in Britain for bringing privatized services back under public control shows is that people who have to use privatized services don’t believe privatization works,” said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “As we've also seen happen in Canada, people in Britain who rely on services that have been privatized have seen cuts to service and/or higher costs.”

People who remember publicly controlled services most likely to support public ownership

Polls usually show that support for public ownership is highest among people old enough to remember what things were like before services were privatized. These are people who can remember what publicly controlled services were like and compare them to privatized services.

“That people with extensive experience of publicly controlled and privatized services want to reverse privatization is a damning indictment of privatization,” said Brown.

High support for public ownership of those services the privatization industry is targeting in Canada

In Canada, the privatization industry has set its sights on health care, education, water services, electricity, and public transit.. In fact, the new Canada Infrastructure Bank is meant to encourage privatization of these types of services. Recently, the Ontario government privatized Hydro One.

What the polling from Britain shows is that privatization harms service quality. Support for public ownership was at least twice as high as support for privatization. In many cases support for public ownership was as high as 8 times the level of support for privatization.

It’s not hard to figure out why. People have seen how privatization of water services meant generous payouts to shareholders, while water rates rose rapidly and infrastructure problems were ignored. They’ve seen the repeated bailouts of private train operators. And they’ve seen how P3 privatization schemes are threatening to bankrupt the National Health Service.

“Before we repeat Britain’s mistakes, let’s ask ourselves why an overwhelming majority of the people who use privatized services there want them brought back under public ownership," said Brown.

Issues and Campaigns


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE