Public Employment


On a cross-Canada basis, the federal public workforce diminished substantially in the 1990s. In response to a seriously deteriorating financial situation, the federal government was led to adjust the number of people in its employ. Thus, between 1991 and 1999, federal staffing numbers declined by 21%. Subsequently, the federal government recruited personnel on a sustained basis between 1999 and 2008, with the result that in 2008, federal public administration staffing levels had returned to their early 1990s levels. Although this swing of the pendulum affected the federal workforce as a whole, significant variations appear in terms of its impact in the individual provinces.

Percentage Change in Federal Employees, 1991-1999 and 1999-2008

Source: Statistics Canada, E-STAT, Table 183-0002, Public sector employment, expressed in persons and calculated annual average (updated on July 29, 2009).
* Data adjusted for 2008 according to the average annual rate of change between 1999 and 2008 (+ 2.2%), such as y (2008 adjusted) = y (2008 real)* (1 - 0.022).

A comparison of the percentage change in federal workforce numbers between 1991 and 1999 with the figure recorded for the period running from 1999 and 2008 (the value for 2008 being adjusted in order to allow comparison between two equivalent, eight-year periods) provides no evidence of a zero-sum game occurring between federal public job losses between 1991 and 1999 and employment growth between 1999 and 2008. It would appear instead that on this score, the Canadian provinces fall into two distinct categories:

  • those provinces in which the job losses of the 1990s were not compensated for by increases in the federal workforce during the 2000s (decade). Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and the four Western provinces fall into this category;
  • the other four provinces, in which an increase in the number of federal employees during the 2000s surpassed the workforce decrease of the1990s.

As concerns Ontario and Quebec in particular, it is important to note that growth in the federal workforce during the 2000s was primarily the result of an increase in the number of federal public employees working in the National Capital Region on both sides of the Ottawa River. Thus, according to figures from the Canada Public Service Agency, between 1994 and 2008 the share of federal employees located in this region as a percentage of the entire federal public workforce residing in Ontario and Quebec rose, respectively, from 58.6% to 70.7% and from 35.3% to 51.7%.