You have to spend money to make money. And apparently, you have to spend money to save money, too.
And that’s how the provincial government finds itself in the curious balancing act it’s now facing. In order to save money over the next few years, the provincial government announced layoffs that they pegged at 935 jobs. Since then, other layoffs outside the core civil service have swelled the number into somewhere over 1,000, and some have set the number at almost double that.
The government has not been clear about where the jobs have disappeared, and even documents like the government’s salary details aren’t offering much information beyond the bald numbers. In fact, the government printed the following disclaimer about its salary costs: “The salary details report reflects those positions that were eliminated as of March 31st. There are additional positions that have been eliminated, however those individuals will exit government post-March. These position eliminations will be reflected in next year’s salary details document.”
One thing that is detailed in this year’s financial documents, though, is the expected cost of laying off employees — remember, the government maintains it will be back in the black in the next two years.
And what does the government expect to pay out as a result of its 5.4 per cent reduction of the size of the core civil service?
Well, for that you have to look at Section 2.1.02 of the provincial Estimates, “Ex-Gratia and Other Payments — Non-Statutory.”
That subhead has grown dramatically, rising from $9.9 million in last year’s estimates to
$69.7 million this year. The single-year 700 per cent growth in that category is the result of severance and other payments to employees who are being laid off.
You can argue that those payments are the direct result of the astounding growth in the size of provincial civil service over the last decade. When the money was flowing, the province was hiring. As oil prices fell (and they are still falling), so did our ability to support that number of civil servants, but with each passing year we have been expanding our financial commitment to those hired.
If we’re lucky, the provincial government is correct about its eventual return to prosperity. If we do get back in the black reasonably, perhaps we should stop and think about what constitutes a reasonable size for government in this province, instead of once again performing like the grasshopper in “Aesop’s Fables” and fiddling our good fortune away.
Even cutting jobs can be wildly expensive, as this year’s estimates clearly show. The only real way to avoid that is to not go on hiring binges in the first place. And that’s something that, even after a decade, this administration has not shown it is capable of doing.