Jane Jacobs, the noted writer and urban activist, helped found the Consumer Policy Institute in 1994. CPI has reproduced her first newsletter to our supporters to show that her ideas and recommendations, presented nearly 20 years ago, are just as relevant then as they are now.
Brady Yauch, Executive Director and Economist, Consumer Policy Institute.
Dear Probe Supporter,
Affordable, convenient public transit is vital, yet Canadian cities are plagued with costly, inadequate systems. Time and again, transit managements and politicians with public funds at their disposal embrace foolish, extravagant policies while ignoring commonsense alternatives and neglecting innovative thinking. Those decisions are paid for in higher fares, lost customers, rotten service, tax subsidies and lost opportunities. The environment pays in over-use of automobiles, pollution, energy waste and exorbitant urban sprawl.
It used to be reasoned that public service monopolies would benefit from lack of “wasteful” competition and economies of scale. They don’t. The post office is a notorious example. Only when that monopoly began to break down did many badly needed innovations from independent businesses become available. Or consider long-distance passenger rail services: they are a disgrace, forever deteriorating yet becoming more costly.
To govern well, governments must neither monopolize commercial services themselves nor foster monopolies by others. Government needs to be independent of business to avoid conflicts of interest that prevent honest regulation or invite corruption. Good service delivery must be responsive to customers’ ever-changing needs, not protected from customers by limiting their choices or evading failure by winning government favours. Hopping the gravy train is no way to run a railroad or any other successful commercial service.
Yet more and more we hear of government-industry projects and “partnerships” that cloud what should be arm’s-length relationships between businesses and regulator. Little wonder that our federal and provincial capitals swarm with lobbyists for corporate interests that find it more profitable to court politicians than customers. Little wonder that the environment is victimized or that we become triple victims as consumers, taxpayers and citizens.
That’s why the Energy Probe Research Foundation, of which I have been a director since its inception, has decided to establish a new division, the Consumer Policy Institute. Other groups within our Foundation deal primarily with environmental and resource policies. The Consumer Policy Institute will work for consumers with the aim of increasing fairness, choice, safety, reliability and affordability.
If you believe Canada needs an alert, research-oriented consumer watchdog and advocacy organization to take on powerful corporate interests and government monopolies, please join me in being a co-founder of this much needed new agency.