Should public service pay and benefits be brought into line with the private sector?


Trimming the public service: The latest federal budget all but eliminates the deficit, a marquee achievement for the Conservatives. About a third of the savings comes from cuts to the public service health plan for retired workers.  It's part of a series of moves the government has made to reduce its operating costs. Some say it's not fair.  What do you think?
Should pay and benefits of public servants be brought into line with the private sector?

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When the federal government handed down its budget this past week, the critics' responses ranged from 'boring, do-nothing, to 'sneaky because it delivers major changes while people are distracted by the Olympics.' Perhaps the most significant news was that the deficit has been tamed and could have been a surplus this year ...but the Conservatives decided to delay that moment until 2015.

Well, whether the budget does too little or too much probably depends on your perspective. From the point of view of the public service, the budget contained another cut to their benefits, something the government has signalled they'd better get used to.

In fact the single biggest savings comes out of the cost of the Public Service Health Care Plan for retired bureaucrats. Instead of the government paying 75% of that benefit plan, it will cut its contribution to 50%. The savings are substantial $7.5-billion dollars over 6 years. And for the planholders it means they will pay more of cost of their plan, anywhere from $260-dollars per year to $550 depending on their status.

Over the past year the Conservatives have been telegraphing a desire to trim the cost of the public service in several ways. Those salaries and benefits represent a tempting target to a government intent on downsizing ...they amount to the government's largest single operating expense at approximately $43-billion dollars annually.

Limiting the right-to-strike, reducing sick-days, trimming pensions and compensation, creating performance evaluations are just a few of the items that have come under review. This approach has considerable public support because of a widely held perception that the compensation of public servants has grown out of proportion to what most Canadians are offered in the private sector. It's also a view that many others contest, particularly in the labour movement. So, two questions are sure to be much debated over the months to come: 1. whether or not the public service is too comfortable ...and 2. should it lead the way in setting employment standards or should it follow the example of private companies.

We'd like to hear your views on this ...on the broader questions and on the details.

Is it time to trim the public service? Is it fair to tighten the rules and bring conditions more into line with the private sector? Is it unfair to suggest in an overall manner that public servants are better off than those in the private sector? Remember the public service includes everyone from janitors to deputy ministers ...from counter clerks to scientists. The conditions are not the same for all. Is it fair game to identify places where too much public money is being spent within the ranks of government? Who should be making those decisions?

Our question today: "Should pay and benefits of public servants be brought into line with the private sector?"

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Tony Clement
    President of the Treasury Board of Canada. Conservative Member of Parliament for Parry Sound-Muskoka since 2006.
    Twitter: @TonyclementCPC

  • Paul Moist
    National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
    Twitter: @CUPENatPres

  • Donald Savoie
    Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance, University of Moncton, and has also held senior positions with the Government of Canada, including Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Board and Deputy Principal of the Canadian Centre for Management Development. Author of several books including Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher? How Government Decides and Why.

  • Janice MacKinnon
    Former Finance Minister of Saskatchewan under NDP Premier Roy Romonow. Now Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.


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