By Marco Navarro-Génie, President and CEO
The paper AIMS published last week with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy looked again at public sector workers in Canadian provinces, excluding the federal public service. The new work placed an emphasis on Western Provinces; the first one focused on the Atlantic region.
The type of reaction to the “Western” data paper in the Winnipeg Free Press caught my attention. David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies and sociology at the University of Manitoba was quick to dismiss the paper as a kind of fake news. He charged that the paper was looking for troubles where there are none, and suggested the authors of the study thought the public sector workers are unimportant. None of those comments had evidentiary bases in the paper.
Camfield did introduce substance to his criticism by addressing the issue of scales, which dictates that smaller provinces (in population) tend to be at a disadvantage. This is true to some extent, and the observation is valid. But the critique is less effective because the measure we use (number of public servants per one thousand people) goes some distance to account for scale.
The data, in addition, show that other smaller provinces with similar profiles have fewer public sector workers per thousand residents than Manitoba. The worst case in Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, has half the population of Manitoba. Newfoundland’s population is extended over a very large territory, yet Newfoundland has 101 public sector workers per thousand versus the 111 in Manitoba.
Manitoba is more densely populated (Newfoundland and Labrador has 1.31 inhabitants per square kilometer; Manitoba has 2.03). Should it take 10 more public servants per thousand paid by provincial residents to deliver services in Manitoba than it does in Newfoundland and Labrador?
Manitobans ought to ask why it is that their provincial and municipal governments need so many public servants. 111 public servants per thousand drawing pay from the provincial taxpayer in Manitoba represent 28 more per thousand than the national average, or 34 per cent more over all. Manitobans need to ask if the services they receive are 34 per cent better than those of the average Canadian. Are they 34 per cent better than in New Brunswick?
New Brunswick offers an instructive comparison with Manitoba. While Manitoba has a notable French-speaking population (4 per cent), New Brunswick (and its relatively-high rural population) is officially bilingual (and 32 per cent francophone). It offers many public services in French, significantly increasing their delivery costs and often duplicating them. Yet, New Brunswick is below the national average with 81 civil servants per thousand.
Our call for a thorough examination of the public sector’s size in Manitoba and Saskatchewan remains necessary.