Much has been made of Premier Brad Wall’s recent decision to accept offers for the sale of SaskTel, our provincial telecom provider. Going by the reactions online, one might think the sky itself was falling.
Wall has, of course, promised a provincial referendum before a sale would be finalized, and that’s only if an offer comes in which guarantees job numbers and rates will be maintained at their current levels. For Wall to consider an offer acceptable, it will also have to eliminate our province’s debt, which currently sits a little over $4 billion.
But that isn’t sitting well with some, who see this as the latest step in the Premier’s ideological agenda to privatize every industry in Saskatchewan. Wall’s critics are accusing him of selling SaskTel without consulting them, and insinuate that the privatization of fire departments cannot be far behind.
Nobody is going to vote ideologically to sell SaskTel; not even me, and I don’t make a cup of coffee unless it’s ideologically motivated. I believe very strongly in a free, competitive market and government deregulation, yet I believe even more strongly in the fact that I don’t want my monthly bill to go up.
When you pit ideology against finance, finance wins every time. Finance beats ideology like Ralphie beat Scott Farkus – it’s not even close.
Despite the lack of ideological motivation, if an offer comes in that meets all of Wall’s criteria, and it’s presented to the population through a referendum as promised, I would vote to sell.
First, it must be said that I don’t think SaskTel is doing a particularly great job. They’ve managed to keep rates low, good for them, but have you ever tried to get some customer service from them? Call SaskTel with a problem and you’ll figure out quickly where they found the savings to keep your monthly rates so low.
Furthermore, for a province-wide service provider funded by every individual resident of Saskatchewan, SaskTel certainly has spotty coverage in many rural areas. When I lived in Saskatoon and Regina my SaskTel phone could stream HD videos faster than I could call them up; here in Maple Creek my snail-paced Internet service occasionally just disappears for a few hours.
I can’t be the only one who believes that a little competition in the marketplace would go a long way towards addressing these service issues.
It actually reminds me of a joke: What did the government-enforced monopoly change when their customers became dissatisfied? … Nothing.
“But SaskTel makes lots of money for the province, and we don’t want to lose that valuable income,” cry the critics.
First, just because something makes money, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. A flat 90 per cent income tax would make money for the province too, but I don’t hear a lot of people arguing in favour of that.
Second, SaskTel themselves have said their recent financial successes are not indicative of future performance. Remember how profitable potash was in Saskatchewan only a few short years ago?
When we hit the national recession that now seems inevitable (I’m predicting we see it before Christmas, others are more optimistic), and Saskatchewan residents are looking for ways to pinch pennies, would you expect all of them to keep their expensive data plans? Paying an extra $10/month for caller ID or other features also begins to seem a little decadent when your house is suddenly worth only a fifth what you paid.
If we keep SaskTel, the next few years will be trying for them as they struggle to keep rates low while residents cancel unneeded services. They will be trying years for us, as well, if we insist on keeping SaskTel afloat through provincial funding.
I believe it would be better to go into a recession with a provincial debt of $0.00 and a solid credit rating than to go into one with a big blue ball-and-chain tied around our collective ankles. Remember what I said about finance trumping ideology? It works both ways.
Keeping our provincial credit rating low while the rest of the nation flounders might even be worth [brace yourselves] paying an extra few bucks a month on our phone bills with Bell.
Those who oppose the potential sale should not be worried just yet. They still have the upper hand. Most have already mentally associated the sale with higher bills, or hold on with both hands to the die-hard socialist view that we somehow owe Saskatchewan Crown Corporations our money and loyalty, instead of the other way around.
If Wall expects to convince a majority of the province to sell SaskTel before it transforms from an asset into a liability, he will need a very juicy offer and salesmanship on the level of P.T. Barnum. For all Wall’s positive qualities, he is no Barnum, and such an offer remains firmly theoretical.
With that said, now might not be the worst time ever to sign a multi-year contract with SaskTel. You, like the province itself, might even be due for an upgrade.