In a recent speech, John Bragg argued that we should reduce our civil service by about 15 per cent. Bragg is the head of EastLink and Oxford Frozen Foods, and a member of the Ivany panel. There are about 10,000 provincial civil servants.

Bragg cited an Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies report that showed Nova Scotia having among the highest costs for the provincial portion of the government sector.

Discussions on this topic often start with the idea that reductions can be implemented by not replacing some or all of the workers who leave or retire. This conveniently avoids the question of what positions are to be eliminated. When snowplow drivers, social workers, jail guards or deputy ministers leave, they usually have to be replaced.

Real reductions can only occur if government identifies functions that will no longer be provided, or finds ways of doing things that require fewer people to do them. Even if that is achieved, there are obstacles.

*This article appeared in the Chronicle Herald