The ratio of public employment to total employment is partially determined by the dynamism of total employment. In Canada since 1981, total employment has undergone four phases, which were more or less pronounced depending on the province concerned:
- an increase in the unemployment rate in the early 1980s, which resulted by a slight decrease in the number of full-time jobs, primarily in 1982 and 1983;
- tangible improvement in the employment situation starting in 1985-86 and lasting until 1990;
- a new increase in the unemployment rate between 1990 and 1995. This employment slump ran deeper and lasted longer in Quebec than in the other provinces of comparable size, resulting in a net decline in employment in 1991, 1992 and 1993;
- an increase in the number of jobs in all the provinces of Canada during the second half of the 1990s.
Furthermore, it is important to note the particular situation of the labour markets in Alberta and British Columbia, which have posted more constant patterns of growth since 1981.
Considering the variations in both the denominator of total employment and the number of public employees during the 1981-2009 period, the overall decrease of the share of public employment in total employment was interrupted by two short periods of growth (lasting two to three years) in the early 1980s and the early 1990s.
Between 1981 and 2010, Alberta and Nova Scotia were the provinces in which the share of public employment decreased most sharply (-22.8% and -21.2%, respectively). However, these declines occurred in two highly contrasting contexts. In Nova Scotia in the early 1980s, more than one employee in three was a public employee, thus garnering for this province the highest such ratios, particularly from 1981 to 1994. In Alberta, on the other hand, the proportion of public employment in total employment was historically lower. Thus, following cutbacks in the province’s public workforce in the 1990s, Alberta posted the lowest ratio of public employment to total employment of all provinces (17.0%) as of 2010.
During this period, Quebec and New Brunswick were the provinces in which the decrease in this ratio (-12.0% and 10.5%) most closely mirrored that of the public workforce in all of Canada (-11.0%). Interestingly enough, in Ontario between 1981 and 2010, the ratio decreased less strongly than in Quebec (-3.8%), even though it was the province whose public workforce underwent the most drastic cutbacks during the 1990s. Only two provinces present an increase in the ratio of public employment to total employment between 1981 and 2009: Saskatchewan (+4.0%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (+4.6 %).
The number of employees per 1000 inhabitants is an indicator of the capacity of the public sector to deliver services. It provides an idea of the scale of administrative systems in the provinces of Canada. It is also indicative of the size of government relative to a given society, although, on this score, the ratio of public employees to total employment is more suitable.