It appears the Atlantic Region – particularly Nova Scotia – is still experiencing a drop in federal employment. The Trudeau government recently released data on the “Population of the Federal Public Service by Geographic Region” to March 31, 2017. It suggests that while public service employment (not counting Canadian Forces, RCMP, CSIS or the National Capital Commission) has gone up nationally over the last two years, the number of public employees (and by extension the services they provide) has continued to drop overall in the Atlantic Region.

After falling five years in a row in response to the Harper government’s austerity kick, federal public service employment across Canada increased by almost 5,700 between 2015 and 2017. But during that same two-year period, the recent data released by Minister Scott Brison’s Treasury Board, show it has dropped by over 450 in Nova Scotia, more than offsetting small employment gains in the other three Atlantic Provinces. 

Federal government jobs

 201520172018Change 2015-18
Canada257,138262,696273,57116,433
Nova Scotia 10,549 10,095 10,244 -305
Newfoundland & Labrador 4,711 4,782 5,348 637
Prince Edward Island 3,115 3,147 3,201 86
New Brunswick 8,281 8,350 9,032 751
Total Atlantic26,656 26,374 27,825 1,169
NCR107,288107,977113,028 5,470
Source: Treasury Board

The new data reveal that the latest reduction in federal civil service jobs in the region (totalling 282 for the four provinces combined) follows a five-year period during which that workforce in the Atlantic Provinces fell by 2,867, close to a 10% drop. Despite Conservative government claims to the contrary, the job loss here slightly exceeded the national rate. And when cuts to military are taken into account, the 2010-2015 regional picture becomes even worse.

Statistics Canada produces counts for total federal employment, including the military (CANSIM Table 383-0033). The non-military numbers are not strictly comparable to the Treasury Board ones since they cover the entire sector. And they are for the calendar year, whereas Treasury Board’s cover April 1 to March 31. With those caveats in mind, StatsCan data show that all in, between 2010 and 2015 federal public sector jobs fell by 4,480 in the Atlantic Region. That’s a drop of 8.6%, well above the combined national decrease of 5.6% for civil service and military jobs. Of course, these are well-paying jobs, almost twice the per-hour rate of the private sector – and they contribute a lot of provincial income tax as well.

So when military employment is counted, a little fib about federal job cuts in Atlantic Canada being at or below the national rate becomes a greater fabrication. But that was the record of the tight-fisted Conservatives. Shouldn’t a region with almost zero job growth in the last two years receive better from a free-spending Liberal government than a continuation of austerity-driven job cuts?

On that question, the jury is still out. Due to what appears to be the fault of the Phoenix pay system, Treasury Board reports having 6,537 employees whose 2017 “geographic data is not available due to changes in the central data system.” Who knows, perhaps a sizeable contingent of those whose “geographic data is not available” will turn out to be working in the Atlantic Region. Maybe the government will track them down and next year’s tally from Treasury Board will have more comprehensive data, allowing the Liberals to assert they’ve ended years of disproportionate job cuts to a region that can ill afford them. Based on available data, that’s a claim they unfortunately cannot yet make.

Federal jobs (including armed forces)

 201020152017Percentage change 2015-7
Canada422,760382,545386,170+0.95%
Nova Scotia 24,100 21,520 21,070-2.09%
Newfoundland and Labrador 7,405 6,185 6,090-1.54%
Prince Edward Island 3,790 3,545 3,560+0.42%
New Brunswick 16,560 15,205 15,525+2.10%
Source: Statistics Canada Table 383-0033