N.L. civil service has more communications officials per capita than Alberta

First in a three-part series

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on May 2, 2014
The front facade of the Confederation Building on Prince Philip Drive in St. John’s, shown in March 2011, continues to undergo renovations.
— File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The provincial government has 50 communications people on staff with a combined annual salary of more than $3.7 million.
Comparing the Newfoundland and Labrador numbers to Alberta, where the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation did a similar study a month ago, this province has far more communications officials on a per capita basis.

And these numbers are just for the core civil service; they do not include the five communications employees in the premier’s office, the  communications officials in the official opposition or the one communications employee who works for the NDP.

“With that number, you could put a staff member on almost every journalist in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and you’d still have people left over,” said Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “Governments should stop worrying about how they’re going to tell people what a good job they’re doing, and instead focus on just getting the job done for taxpayers.”

Across the core civil service, there are two or three communications officials in most government departments, with a single person working in some of the smaller divisions, like the Women’s Policy Office or the Office of Public Engagement.

On top of that, there are 13 people working within the communications branch of Cabinet Secretariat.

In sheer numbers, the Alberta government has Newfoundland and Labrador outgunned on communications workers; the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported there are 214 communications employees in Alberta making a combined total of $23 million, compared to the 50 in the civil service here making $3.7 million.

But if you factor in relative population, the Newfoundland and Labrador government employs roughly one communications person for every 10,000 citizens; in Alberta, there’s one communications person for every 17,000 citizens.

And the numbers are growing.

According to the Canadian Journalism Project, in Canada right now there are four public relations people for every journalist.

By studying Statistics Canada data, it found that in 1991 there were 23,780 public relations professionals — in both the public sector and private business — compared to 13,470 working journalists. Fast forward to 2011, and the number of journalists shrank to 13,280, while the number of PR people had more than doubled to 54,605.

But Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien objected to The Telegram’s math, showing that Newfoundland and Labrador has more taxpayer-funded communications people per capita than Alberta.

“That’s not a good formula to determine how many people you might need to do a certain job,” he said.

“It depends on a lot of variables including economic growth. It includes the size of your budget (and) includes the diversity of your province.”

O’Brien told The Telegram he never had anybody say to him that the provincial government has too many communications officials, and that 50 really isn’t that many for the province.

He said that regardless of the population of the province, the government needs a certain number of people to do the work.

“We’ve got all the same things going on in our province as they have in Alberta — matter of fact, we’ve got more, because they haven’t got a fishery,” he said. “They’re not just people that are sitting around writing up press releases. That’s only a very small percentage of the work they do in a given day. They’re in on most of the meetings and their job is developing the message that has to go out and the information that has to go out to the public.”

O’Brien said with a growing population, the government needs to have a variety of programs to help people take advantage of that, and it needs people to communicate to the public about what those programs are.

“How do you become aware of a program such as my disability accessibility fund, you know, that we actually have grants within Advanced Education and Skills that would enable a group to make their building accessible to people with disabilities?” he said.

“How am I going to get that out there?”

 

Saturday: The core civil service is just the tip of the iceberg

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames