BC’s public sector the smallest in Canada; public services short-staffed

April 9, 2013

(Vancouver) A report released today finds that spending cuts and staff reductions have seriously weakened BC’s public sector, which is the smallest in Canada when measured as a share of the population.

“The message to the public has been that public sector employment can be cut – usually in the name of reducing the deficit – without any noticeable impact on programs or services,” says Iglika Ivanova, economist and author of Reality Check on the Size of BC’s Public Sector, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“But in fact, the latest Statistics Canada numbers on public sector employment in BC tell a very different story.” These statistics show:

  • BC has the smallest public sector in Canada. In 2011, there were 90 public sector employees per 1,000 people in BC, compared to 92 in Alberta and 100 in Ontario (which have the 2nd and 3rd smallest public sectors).
  • While other provinces have reinvested in public services since the early 2000s, BC made cuts in 2001–2004 and again after the 2008 recession. As a result, services aren’t able to meet the needs of a growing population.

The report also finds no evidence of an “overspending problem” in BC. In fact, provincial government spending as a share of the economy (or GDP) has dropped significantly over the past two decades. “The current provincial deficit is the result of a revenue shortfall due to a decade of tax cuts followed by a slow economy, not overspending,” says Ivanova. "For example, in 2011/12 BC spent 2.3% of GDP (or $5 billion) per year less than in 2000/01."

Public sector workers in BC are vital to ensure high quality of life for all British Columbians. They are a diverse group that includes police and firefighters; employees of Crown corporations like BC Hydro and BC Transit; teachers, nurses, and social workers providing government-funded education, health and social services; and all employees in publicly funded colleges and universities. They also include employees of ministries, departments and agencies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels who provide support for policy development and direct service delivery, as well as key regulatory and oversight functions.

Ivanova points to a number of consequences of public sector cuts, including

  • Reduced monitoring and protection of forests and water, allowing for more illegal logging and pollution;
  • Larger class sizes in public and post-secondary institutions, reducing the quality of education;
  • Less homecare and other services for seniors; leading to hardship for seniors and overcrowding in hospitals; and
  • Less protection for vulnerable children in care, increasing the likelihood of abuse and neglect, as documented by the Representative for Children and Youth.

A reinvestment in a strong public sector would not only improve quality of life, but also reduce the economic and social costs associated with the high levels of poverty and inequality in our province.

For interviews contact Sarah Leavitt: 604-801-5121, x233 or [email protected]. Reality Check on the Size of BC’s Public Sector is available at policyalternatives.ca/bc-public-sector-reality-check.