Public sector jobs increased more than private sector over decade: report

A new report shows job growth in Canada’s public sector far outpaced that of the private sector over a 10-year period.

The study, released Thursday by the Fraser Institute, found employment in the public sector increased by 22.6 per cent between 2003 and 2013, the latest year for which data is available.

That’s compared with a 10.7 per cent increase in the private sector.

The difference is particularly stark in Ontario, where public sector jobs grew by 27.6 per cent over the study period versus 5.6 per cent in the private sector.

“Ontario’s had a very slow 21st century in terms of its economic growth,” the study’s author, Livio Di Matteo, said in an interview.

He said that the struggling manufacturing sector, which has been hit by a higher Canadian dollar as well as increased taxes and energy prices, was a significant factor in holding back private sector growth.

The climb in public sector jobs also followed a long period of austerity in Ontario in the 1990s that saw significant public sector job cuts.

Meanwhile provinces with resource-based economies saw the strongest increases in private sector job growth.

Alberta had the smallest gap, with a 31.9 per cent rise in public sector employment and a 29.3 per cent increase in the private sector. Newfoundland was the only province to see more growth in private sector jobs, which rose by 14 per cent compared with 11.8 per cent in the public sector.  

The study defines public employees as anyone working for any level of government, for a government service or agency, a Crown corporation or a government-funded organization such as a school or hospital.

And it is in the local government and indirect jobs where much of the public sector job growth has happened, according to Di Matteo, who teaches economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

While not part of the study, Di Matteo said he has since found that across Canada municipal government jobs — police officers, firefighters, and anyone else employed by cities — saw 73 per cent growth between 2000 and 2012.

He also found significant increases in areas like health and social services with 25 per cent growth, and school boards with 36 per cent growth.

Meanwhile direct government employees at the provincial level only grew by three per cent across Canada in the same period.

“So the growth hasn’t been at the provincial level in terms of civil servants,” said Di Matteo.

At the federal level, the number of civil servants climbed steadily through the 2000s, but has been dropping in recent years, from 282,980 in 2010 to 257,138 in 2014 according to the Treasury Board.

Overall public sector workers made up 26.1 per cent of the total workforce in 1992. That number dropped to 22.3 per cent in 2003 and then climbed to 24.4 per cent in 2010 before retreating slightly in recent years.

“It’s basically stabilized since 2010,” said Di Matteo. “If private sector employment picks up then it (the public sector percentage) will start to go down. So it may be that the trend is arrested.”

 

Ian Bicks, The Canadian Press

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