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

James
James McLeod
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First in a three-part series

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.

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

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

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Skeptical Cynic
    May 02, 2014 - 22:11

    This is just a symptom of a larger problem. The government of NL has 48 seats for a population less than that of Hamilton Ontario. Put another way, the NL govrnment has an MHA for every 10000 citizens on average while Ontario has an MLA for every 120000 citizens on average. That's 12 times the number of NL citizens represented by the one MHA... bloody-well ridiculous. NLers have been needlessly burdened to an inordinate degree with an alarmingly bloated, inefficient, overly expensive provincial government. Meanwhile, the NL population is expected to decrease over the coming years. How can the grotesque size of the NL government be justified considering the tiny diminishing population of this province?

  • Dwayne
    May 02, 2014 - 21:10

    Who wrote (spun) this communication by Minister O'Brien?

  • EM
    May 02, 2014 - 19:44

    This study achieved nothing. A bunch of skewed stats that shouldn't even be compared against one another. Media relations, is, at most, 20%, of a communications generalist's job, which also involves internal communications, management of publications, digital media, social media, working with and maintaining positive relationships with many stakeholders, community relations, crisis preparation, I could go on. There are independently-run hospitals in Toronto, for example, with communications departments of 10 or more. It's not about "per capita" or "per journalist". It's about the programs you run and the services you offer as any organization (government included) being as accessible and comprehensive as possible for the publics at hand. Communications professionals do not sit in their offices dreaming up ways of spinning constant bad news and in our spare time, fielding media calls. Guess what? Sometimes, yes SOMETIMES, there is news that is actually just good no matter what you think you are being "sold." No spin needed. Whether a charity improved the life of someone who needed it most, a researcher finds a cure for a disease, or a government department implements a program to aid those living with disabilities, this is good news that organizations feel their publics would benefit from just KNOWING. It is not always to divert us from something bad. Signed, a non-government worker

  • Tony Rockel
    May 02, 2014 - 14:21

    This isn't public engagement-- it's public engorgement.

  • Premier Marshall please put those communicators to work on the Fishery development File educating Ottawa on how important the fishery is to NL.
    May 02, 2014 - 11:14

    Why did the PC Government of Kathy Dunderdale and her predecessor not decide to develop the fishery into a viable industry for the people who elected them? Instead they gave OUR most valuable renewable resource away completely to the Federal Government to advance Trade Agreements for the rest of Canada under CETA. They were apprised almost 3 years ago by Maude Barlow that CETA was going to be the detriment of the fishery for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians unless attention was paid to it and for them to reject CETA. They ignored Ms. Barlow's pleas and gave into Ottawa anyway. The PCs in this province pretended they were listening, Ottawa sent 4 envoys on different occasions to plead with the Premier to give up the MPRs and she finally did in the end. Receiving the 4 envoys was a ruse, they knew what they were going to do and they did it. Ex-Premier Dunderdale and company finally put the final nail in the fishery coffin as it relates to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. These so-called communicators talked about in this article should have been assigned to the Fishery File 3 years ago instead of wasting this money with no results on anything. NEVETHELESS no matter that they signed off on the fishery, they have to renege on that contract and give us back our Heritage Resource and have it developed under a template that every other jurisdiction in the World develops their fishery, just like Ottawa has done with our fish for the rest of Canada's benefit while ignoring our fishers, where it becomes a very lucrative and coveted industry in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador!

  • guy incognito
    May 02, 2014 - 10:17

    What a complete waste of money. Maybe if this government knew what they were doing they wouldn't need so many people to spin and manipulate the truth.

  • disgusted
    May 02, 2014 - 10:14

    Well, Mr. O'Brien, I'm telling you now that we have WAY too many communications people! These are very high paying jobs - and their main duties are to make the governing party look good and put a positive spin on whatever the Govt is doing - and hide as many negative things as possible. Years ago there were no communications spin doctors, the ADM's and DM's released the information. Now there are close to 60 (if you include the PO and opposition offices). And yet, it was Clerk III's and Clerk IV's, making about 1/3 of what these guys make, that were layed off last year - NOT the Communications Officers!

  • R Hollett
    May 02, 2014 - 10:00

    'O’Brien said with a growing population...' Is O'Brien serious, or is he basing his demographic study on Stavanger Drive? Our population has stayed the same or shrunk in the past 20 years. And this guy is running our province. Oh dear.

    • Really Kev
      May 02, 2014 - 18:24

      And this from a gov minister who's to good to serve up a helping of scrambled eggs for a good cause due to another party's member in attendance. Sooooooooooooooo Yeah?

  • Scammers
    May 02, 2014 - 09:27

    I am really happy that this article has brought this to light. These are the same communications people that write the news releases for the road announcements for route 360. so that if re-elected Tracey Perry can back out of the contract and not be considered a liar. This is what these communications people are used for. Why don't the PCs just disclose to the people of the province what our money is spent on and let us read it for ourselves. We are not stupid and do not need these "cover your butt" press releases. Up to recently when we saw these types of releases they came from scammers and were reported to the police. Then an advisory would go out to warn the people of the possible scam. The NL government is now realizing that the scammers are getting away with this so they are doing the same thing now.

  • BC
    May 02, 2014 - 08:57

    Communications officials should be about making public information accessible to the public. Instead, they do they opposite; cover behinds, obscure and spin things, push the government message. Every dollar is a waste aimed to peddle dishonesty. Gah.

  • Check
    May 02, 2014 - 08:57

    Years ago, there would be only a clerk for HR work. Now it's a division.

  • Dr. Spin
    May 02, 2014 - 08:39

    That's because the Secret Society known as the Con Party of NL requires more spin doctors to pump out it's propaganda.

  • Joe
    May 02, 2014 - 07:09

    Mr. O'Brien is a fool. No wonder this province has a pension problem.

  • JRM
    May 02, 2014 - 06:49

    Comparing Comms people to the number of journalists is totally meaningless. Comms and PR people do a lot more than just speak to media. The study in question decides to ignore that in favor of a sensational headline.

    • Jack
      May 02, 2014 - 10:29

      My point is that there seems to be too many reporters and not enough real news to go around. There are too many "cat stuck in a tree" stories. I would be interested in a real story where people are confirmed to have lied to the public with a deliberate attempt to mislead the public or for personal gain. I am not interested in musing and opinion or stories without a point.

  • Jack
    May 02, 2014 - 06:37

    Very interesting statistic. Anyone know how many reporters and journalists we have per capita compared to Alberta. May the government is trying to match or out do the competition!