Last December I reported that the Atlantic Region was still experiencing a drop in federal employment. Source of that news was the annual “Population of the Federal Public Service by Geographic Region.” That report, to March 31, 2017, indicated that while public service employment had gone up nationally since the Liberals came to power, the number of federal public employees in the Atlantic provinces was down overall. But according to the most recent report from Treasury Board the tide has turned with each Atlantic province showing an increase in 2018.

The increases range from a low of 63 in Prince Edward Island to a high of 682 in New Brunswick. And as the following table shows, every province but Nova Scotia has shown an increase in federal employment since the Liberals came to power in 2015 and began restoring some of the public service jobs cut by the Harper Conservatives from 2009 onwards.

Federal government jobs

201520172018Change 2015-18
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

As the table shows, the increase of 1,169 in the Atlantic provinces since 2015 is modest compared with the 5,000-plus increase in the National Capital Region (NCR). However, it reverses a trend which saw the loss of over 3,000 federal civil service jobs in the region over the previous seven years. Even with the additional jobs in 2018, all provinces except New Brunswick are down from where they were before those losses. Nova Scotia is the worst off, with 1,844 fewer federal jobs in 2018 than in 2010, a reduction of 15 per cent. As the following table shows, the decline in the Atlantic region from 2010-11 peaks was more than twice that of the National Capital Region.

Decline in Federal government employment, Atlantic and National Capital Region

Peak 2018 Change % change
NS 12,088 10,244 -1,844 na
NL 5,597 5,348 -249 na
PEI 3,381 3,201 -180 na
NB 8,627 9,032 +360 na
Region 29,738 27,825 -1,913 -6.4%
NCR 116,357 113,028 -3,329 -2.9%

Source: Treasury Board

Many of the job increases in 2018 may be temporary – more than 60 per cent were classified as term, casual or student. The 2018 increase in New Brunswick came mainly in Public Service and Procurement Canada, the department responsible for the pay centre (and the ill-fated Phoenix payroll system) in Miramichi. PSP added 392 jobs in New Brunswick. The Canada Revenue Agency was the main source of increased employment in Newfoundland and Labrador, adding 349 jobs, an increase of 26 per cent over 2017. Fisheries and Oceans was also a a major source of job growth, adding 300 jobs across the region, including 108 in Nova Scotia,101 in Newfoundland and 88 in New Brunswick. Employment and Social Development added more than 250 jobs across the four provinces, half of those in New Brunswick.

Military considered

The Treasury Board figures do not include the military, a significant factor in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Statistics Canada produces counts for total federal employment, including the military (Table 36-10-0480-01). The non-military numbers are not strictly comparable to the Treasury Board ones since they cover some categories (RCMP and CSIS for example) not covered by Treasury Board. And they are for the calendar year, whereas Treasury Board’s cover April 1 to March 31. With those caveats in mind, comparing Stats Canada data with the Treasury Board report shows that when the military is included, the picture is less rosy.

Federal jobs (including armed forces)

201020152017Percentage change 2015-7
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


As the table above shows, when military employment is included, two of the four Atlantic provinces experienced declines, and the increases for NewBrunswick and Prince Edward Island from 2015 to 2017 totalled only about 350. The notion of federal government employment as a generator of economic security in the Atlantic Region seems like a distant memory.