Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The "Bloated Public Sector" Meme

Public Workers as a share of Manitoba's workforce. 

Image constructed by The Analyst, with data from ENAP's comparison
of provincial governments.

Well, I've been having quite a heated political quarrel on Winnipeg Zoom with The Purple Rod (LRT) and Riverman over the share of public workers in Manitoba's workforce. The notion that a crippling, oversized, parasitic, unproductive public administration obsessed solely with redistribution has grown beyond all measure in Manitoba has been quite popular in rightwing circles and has gained a larger audience thanks to the hack analyses the Frontier Centre for (Privatizing) Public Policy has been putting out. Sadly, the story has little relation to reality. A new spin on this meme, particularly popular by people suffering from hysterics after the NDP won the 2011 Provincial election, is that Selinger and Doer have deliberately grown the public service to win elections.

An actual look at employment by the public service in Manitoba doesn't bear that out. Public workers as a share of the Manitoba workforce have increased a few percentage points within the last decades, but much of the hike from 2008 onwards is due to Canada-wide falling private sector employment due to the global financial crash. Manitoba's NDP government presided over workforce in 2010 whose public sector share is pretty much the same as Brad Wall's Saskatchewan. Does hiring more public workers somehow ensure that the centre-right Saskatchewan Party will have perpetual rule?

Public workers as a share of the workforce
of various provinces & Canada.

Image constructed by The Analyst, with data from ENAP's comparison
of provincial governments.

Public workers as a share of the workforce has been rather constant in this province. The many important industries - more so in other parts of Canada - that provincial crown corporations operate explains this. I said as much at Winnipeg Zoom.

Manitoba does have a larger share of it's workforce in the public sector, part of that is due to many important industries (like Hydro) that are under the jurisdiction of provincial crown corporations. The problem with the blame Selinger/NDP idea, which you subscribe to, is that the trend wasn't even a percentage point higher under the last year of the Filmon administration than was in the early years of the Doer administration. The recession-induced increase in public workers as a share of the workforce is a Canada wide trend.

  Unfortunately, it's hard to break through the rightwing echo-chamber. The Purple Rod or LRT respond thusly
Nonsense. Manitoba is top heavy because the province hires when they need the statistics.

To suggest that it is because of hydro is way too funny to even comment on seriously.

Manitoba Hydro, for those interested, is not the only Provincial Crown Corporation. Left Hook's  done the digging already to show just how influential a large crown corporate sector in this province is on employment numbers.

The lead claim from this document is that Manitoba has a far higher proportion of its jobs in the public sector than other provinces: “26% of jobs in Manitoba are in the civilian public sector (all levels of government). In the country as a whole, just 20% of jobs are in the civilian public sector.”
That sounds like a big gap, doesn’t it?
However, if you look more closely at the data, you quickly find that the “analysis” is not comparing apples to apples. To achieve the 26% and 20% figures the report includes employment at crown corporations and other government business enterprises. This has the effect of exaggerating public sector employment for provinces that have more public ownership and less privatization. For example, Manitoba’s public sector employment figure includes all the staff at MPI, one of Manitoba’s larger employers, whereas (most) provinces that have private auto insurance will have no public sector workers for this service.
To get a fair, apples-to-apples comparison of public sector employment rates, you need to look at public sector workers without including workers at crown corporations. If you do that, you find that Manitoba has 20% of its total employment in the civilian public sector, compared to 19% for Canada as a whole (Statistics Canada, CANSIM Tables 183-0002 and 383-0009).
Rather than being a caste of functionaries upon functionaries to handle internal government administration, much of Manitoba's public administration engages in industrial or service-based activity that directly adds to the Province's GDP. That 6-7 percentage points above average isn't such deadweight after all.

Facts matter, folks.


  1. I think they should cut 15 % of the workforce minimum. Any paycheque ( benefits and pension )that is guaranteed by taxpayers is a government job any way you try and slice it.

  2. nothing necessarily wrong with a government or crown corporation job if it's self-funding or necessary for a stable society.

  3. nice information..agree with people above me.