You have probably driven by the new advertisements by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board. They are hard to miss, being big billboards touting the benefit of the workers’ compensation board’s “independence from political interference.”
I take some issue with the campaign as, at best, it is an unnecessary piece of advertising for a mandatory insurance program. At worst, it is an inappropriate foray into political discourse by a Crown monopoly.
As a society we have determined that certain products and services should be regulated and monopolized. The four big players locally are the Yukon Liquor Board, Yukon Energy Corp, the Yukon Health Corporation and the workers’ compensation board. We grant these entities protected revenue streams in exchange for them producing some sort of public good.
In the case of the liquor corporation and the WCB, part of this public good takes the form of encouraging harm reduction: the liquor corporation publicizes the dangers of drunk driving, while the WCB advertises the importance of working in a safe manner. These types of ads fall under the mandate of the monopolies and, more importantly, make some sense.
What doesn’t make sense is a Crown monopoly spending money to advertise its effectiveness or to inform the public of its legislated management structures. By virtue of the granted monopoly, there is no choice as to which employment insurance an employee or employer may purchase, as it is a mandatory program. If everybody must subscribe to the program there is no need to advertise. Monopolies’ advertising their effectiveness or their management structures is a waste of money that could be spent on pursuing the actual public good of the monopoly.
The current WCB campaign is the equivalent of Whitehorse General Hospital taking out billboard ads alerting the public to the quality of the local ER, or alerting the public to the fact that the Yukon Hospital Corporation is also “free from political interference.” Such an advertisement would be a waste of money, as it doesn’t matter whether the ER is the best in Canada or the worst, or whether it is free from political interference: it is the only game in town.
Whether WCB is “free of political interference” or not does not aid citizens in making any decisions about their lives; it is simply a statement that rationalizes the existence of the insurance monopoly. It is, in essence, a political statement, and it is not appropriate for the monopoly itself to wade into political debate.
Every dollar that is spent on unnecessary or inappropriate advertising is a dollar that could be spent on achieving the social good for which the monopoly is granted, or a dollar that is unneeded, meaning the price of the service or good could be reduced.
The marketing arms of Crown corporations, WCB in particular, should sit down and think about the social good their monopoly should address and then identify measurable marketing strategies that produce results. In many cases advertising will be warranted by a Crown corporation, but that advertising should be targeted and narrow.
The important question that should be asked by any Crown corporation looking to advertise is, “Why have we been granted this monopoly, and how best can we meet that social goal?” The question should not be, “How can we leverage our protected position to continue our existence?”
Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.