Privatization—the transfer of activities from the public to the private sector—gained international prominence in the 1980s because of the need to reduce budget deficits and growing concerns about the efficiency of state-owned enterprises and government bureaucracies. This article examines privatization in Canada and its effect on governments' fiscal positions.
Privatization has generally been less rapid and extensive in Canada than elsewhere, partly because of the comparatively moderate size of our public sector. Nevertheless, federal, provincial, and municipal governments have increasingly reduced their direct involvement in the Canadian economy by selling Crown corporations, contracting with private firms to deliver public services, and transferring the development of public infrastructure projects to the private sector.
The fiscal impact of privatizing Crown corporations varies with such factors as the profitability of the enterprise, the size of the government's initial investment, and past write-downs. In general, when privatizations are part of a broader effort to improve public finances, they can contribute to fiscal consolidation by reducing budgetary requirements and debt levels.
When services and infrastructure projects are privatized, it is expected that more efficient private sector management will reduce government expenditures. For example, a private consortium may be better able to manage the financial risks involved in building an infrastructure facility, such as cost overruns or the withdrawal of contractors, than the public sector. The key to raising efficiency and lowering costs, however, is competition, not privatization per se. Therefore, the cost savings arising from the privatization of services or public works depend crucially on the terms of the contract.
Overall, when structured to improve economic efficiency, privatization is likely to enhance the economy's performance, thereby producing long-term economic and budgetary gains.
This article examines the changes that have occurred in the composition of funds raised by provincial borrowers during the 1990s.
Higher financing requirements, coupled with the declining availability of funds from non-market sources such as the Canada Pension Plan, led provincial governments and their Crown corporations to broaden and to diversify their debt management programs.
In particular, provincial borrowers expanded their presence in foreign bond markets, increased their issuance of floating-rate debt, and incorporated a wide variety of innovative debt instruments into their borrowing programs in order to minimize their borrowing costs and to manage the risks associated with the issuing of debt. As a result, the composition of funds raised by provincial borrowers during the 1990s differed markedly from that of the previous decade: between 1990 and 1995, provincial borrowing requirements were met almost entirely through the issuance of marketable debt, and net new foreign currency debt issues averaged nearly 50 per cent of funds raised, whereas between 1980 and 1989, non-market sources provided close to 30 per cent of funds raised, and net new foreign currency debt issues provided less than 20 per cent.