There is a semantic debate pertaining to whether public–private partnerships constitute privatization or not. Some argue that it isn’t “privatization” because the government retains ownership of the facility and/or remains responsible for public service delivery. Others argue that they exist on a continuum of privatization; P3s being a more limited form of privatization than the outright sale of public assets, but more extensive than simply contracting-out government services. 

Because “privatization” has a negative connotation, supporters of P3s generally take the position that P3s do not constitute privatization, while P3 opponents argue that they do. The Canadian Union of Public Employees describes P3s as “privatization by stealth”.