Manitoba government cuts 2,000 civil service jobs: report

Numbers from the province's civil service commission show the Manitoba government has chopped more civil-service positions than it planned.

Numbers show province chopped more positions than planned

Exterior of Manitoba legislature building in Winnipeg.
A report from the province's civil service commission says there are 2,000 fewer active employees than there were when the Progressive Conservatives took office in 2016. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The Manitoba government has chopped more civil-service positions than it originally planned, prompting accusations from the Opposition that the cuts will hurt an already fragile economy.

There are currently 12,839 active civil service employees — roughly 2,000 fewer than in 2016, indicates an annual report from the provincial civil service commission released Tuesday. The Progressive Conservative government hired consulting firm KPMG that year, and accepted the firm's call for a reduction of 1,200 jobs.

The numbers do not include jobs cut in the broader public sector such as Crown corporations, which have been ordered to cut management positions by 15 per cent, or regional health authorities.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked Premier Brian Pallister why the cuts had run deeper than planned.

"Why cut so many jobs that Manitobans rely on?" Kinew asked Pallister during a legislature committee hearing.

Cuts are too deep, NDP say

"It does impact the economy when you cut jobs too aggressively. It pulls money out of circulation, and … for every job position that's cut, there's a family attached to that who bears the brunt."

Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government had no choice but to curb spending after being elected in 2016. The former NDP government's annual deficits were approaching $1 billion, and two bond-rating agencies later downgraded Manitoba's credit rating.

"This was the function of the mismanagement of the previous NDP government," Pallister said.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said cutting costs was a 'self-explanatory' decision for his government as it sought to get spending under control. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

"So when [Kinew] asks me why this government would take steps to address the situation, I would say it's self-explanatory to any common-sense person."

Pallister also said it's not the government's job to hire people in order to boost the economy.

The Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a second consecutive majority last month, after promising to continue to cut the deficit and taxes. Manitoba has been running annual deficits since 2009 and the Tories have promised to balance the books by 2022. In the most recent fiscal year that ended in March, the deficit was $163 million.

The provincial economy has been hit by international agricultural trade disputes and a reduction in mining activity. The Conference Board of Canada recently predicted Manitoba's economic growth of less than one per cent next year, due in part to reduced government spending as a few major capital projects — including the Keeyask hydroelectric generating station — wind down.

The civil service commission report says about one-third of the people who left their jobs last year retired. Half resigned and about 14 per cent had fulfilled temporary contracts.

The turnover has also changed the demographics of the civil service. According to the report, 47 per cent of senior managers are women, up from 41 per cent in 2010.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding said there is no directive to reduce the size of the civil service further, but he said the province would consider looking at efficiencies when positions become vacant.

"This is taxpayer money … so we need to be as efficient, as effective as we can," he said.

With a file from the CBC's Ian Froese