Since the early 1980s, all Canadian provinces have seen their government enterprise workforces decrease relative to total employment. This decline is continuous in the majority of provinces, and thus reflects a sustained trend of provincial government withdrawal from a shareholder role. In the case of certain provinces, some annual changes were nevertheless significant – such as the variation occurring in Alberta between 1990 and 1991 – and are indicative of then current privatization processes – in this instance, the transfer of ownership of Alberta Government Telephones to Telus, a private corporation.
It is also worth noting that provinces whose governments assumed less of a shareholder role than the average for Canada in 1981 – namely, Ontario and British Columbia – experienced a more moderate decrease in the ratio of government enterprise employees to total employment between 1981 and 2010 (respectively, -1.1% and -1.5%). This result stands in contrast to provinces in which government business enterprises employed, in 1981, a greater share of the total provincial workforce (Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick) and which were witness to a stronger decrease in this ratio in comparison with average for Canada during the period stretching from 1981 to 2010 (-2.1%).
Furthermore, it is important to recall that the declining share of government business enterprise in total employment is the outcome of the actions of a range of public institutions – namely, the federal government, provincial governments, and municipalities. The federal government was particularly active in the area of privatization between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s, selling off, in particular, Air Canada (1988), Petro-Canada (1991), Canadian National (1995) and civil air navigation services (which became NAV CANADA in 1996). Among the provincial governments, Alberta was, within the framework of the measures adopted by Premier Ralph Klein, incontestably the province most active in transforming the role of government. With the exception of Ontario and Alberta, in 2010, the scope of local government public enterprises controlled by municipalities or their equivalents was relatively modest.