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Governing Canada is a complicated business. The to-do list is enormous, ranging from basic needs like local buses and mail delivery to sophisticated activities such as international finance and nuclear energy. Private companies support some activities, but about 400 government business enterprises do much of the rest.
These 'for-profit' organizations are run more like businesses but are owned by the governments that created them. Federal organizations also support activities not typically provided by the private sector, such as delivering mail through Canada Post or helping Canadians own homes through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. They monitor nuclear energy use at Atomic Energy of Canada, and buy and sell land at Canada Lands Company. They also print, regulate and trade our currency at the Royal Canadian Mint and the Bank of Canada.
Government business enterprises also sell specific goods and services to Canadians. The sale of lottery tickets, beer and liquor is largely done through provincial/territorial government business enterprises. And when Canadians power their homes or take the bus to work, they are using local government-owned companies in many cases.
Not all are money-makers. For example, since electricity and public transportation are so essential to Canadians, local government business enterprises generally charge prices close to or below the cost of production. Though collectively generating more than $16 billion in revenues in 2002, these companies made only minor profits or operated at a loss.
Conversely, provincial and territorial government business enterprises earned profits of $13.3 billion in 2003, with more than 75% generated by lotteries, gaming businesses and alcohol sales. Though federal government business enterprises earned a profit of $6.9 billion in 2003, almost all of it came from financial enterprises like the Bank of Canada and the Exchange Fund Account, which trade currency and gold.