Fudging numbers presents distorted picture

By Lynne Fernandez

In Aiming for ‘average’ could help Manitoba, Peter Holle resorts to sleight of hand to convince us that Manitoba’s public sector is responsible for the province’s budgetary shortfalls. He states that the size of province’s public sector, including municipal employees, went up 2,500 over the last two years and 15,000 over the last 5 years. He then follows these assertions with a discussion of Manitoba’s budgetary challenges, even though the province is not responsible for municipal employees.

If we are to have an honest conversation about the provincial budget and provincial workers, we need to consider two groups of workers: Manitoba civil servants and the other public sector workers whose employers are funded by the province (teachers, professors, healthcare workers, etc.). Manitoba civil servants work directly for the province. According to the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 the civil service numbered 14,687 and made up 2.3% of the total Manitoba workforce. The Bureau also reports that the Manitoba Civil Service is 1.4% smaller than it was 6 years ago and 4% smaller than this time in 2012.

Why this deliberate blurring between the provincial civil service and the broader public sector, and the odd inclusion of municipal workers as wards of the province? Presenting and inflating the numbers in such an illogical way leads readers to conclude that we need to further cut the provincial civil service, especially when the article leads us to believe that it has been growing – when in fact it has shrunk.

Given the public outrage that arose last time teaching and nursing positions were eliminated en masse, the Frontier Centre is not about to publically recommend cutting those positions. It should clearly state in which category jobs they think jobs should eliminated so we can fully understand the impact of its recommendations. And it should not manipulate different categories of employees to provide the numbers it needs to make its tortured ‘let’s be average’ case against provincial workers, especially because, as Holle correctly states, our population will continue to grow. That means that all public services will be in even greater demand.

Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, MB.