New report chronicles job loss impacts of privatization of MTS & acquisition by Bell 

For Immediate Release (Winnipeg, Treaty One). A new report published today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents the economic impacts of the Manitoba Telecom Service (MTS) privatization and subsequent acquisition by Bell. 

“For Whom the Bell Tolls: the Privatization of Manitoba Telecom Services and its Impacts” by Doug Smith chronicles how MTS was once an engine of the Manitoba economy – delivering affordable rates across the province and offering good jobs to generations of Manitobans. Since privatization and subsequent purchase by Bell, there has been significant job loss, poor rural and northern phone service and high rates.

A crown corporation for ninety years, MTS was privatized in 1997. When the Filmon government privatized MTS, it promised the company’s headquarters would remain in Manitoba and that Manitobans constitute a majority of the company’s board of directors. Manitobans were told that the privatization was being managed in a way that would deliver a “Manitoba preference.” However, by 1998, one year after privatization, Manitobans owned less than 20 percent of MTS stock, 1,350 employees had been laid off, and phone rates had risen 37 percent.  The privatization of MTS set the stage for its acquisition by telecom giant Bell.

Manitobans, like all Canadians, continue to pay some of the highest prices in the industrial world for telecommunications services as service declines. Economically Manitoba has been a loser: jobs have been shipped out of the province to non-unionized subcontractors or even out of the country. Bell has also switched from local firms for various services, such as insurance, benefits, and legal services, to its preferred and usually Central Canadian suppliers. Last week Bell announced 1,300 more job cuts from across the company. 

One province over in Saskatchewan, a small provincially owned Crown corporation has been able to do all the things that the privatizers said MTS could not do. 

When MTS was purchased by Bell in 2016, they promised to make Winnipeg the Western Canadian Headquarters. Not only has this promise not been realized but the workforce is shrinking in Manitoba.  From 2015 to today, well over 800 positions have been eliminated.

 “We are struggling to maintain good jobs in this province and worried about the lack of opportunities and prospects for the next generation of workers. Bell needs to revisit their promise to make Winnipeg the western headquarters,” stated TEAM L161 President Dave Eyjolfson. 

“Governments need to place more requirements on telecommunication companies to invest locally. In the absence of this, nationalization of the sector in the face of its growing monopolization is a logical policy alternative,” says report author Doug Smith. 

Read the full report: For Whom the Bell Tolls: the privatization of Manitoba Telecom Services and its Impacts

Two page summary of the report here

Timeline of MTS/Bell here

The report was funded by TEAM. CCPA Mb retains final editorial oversight.