by Quentin Casey, Telegraph-Journal

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s provincial government contains a bloated civil service compared with the rest of Canada, reveal numbers crunched for the Telegraph-Journal Thursday, a fact that prompted one local researcher to state the province would benefit from having the proverbial fat trimmed from its ranks.

For every 1,000 people living in New Brunswick the provincial government employs 14.1 bureaucrats. That figure includes only workers in provincial departments and agencies, not those public employees in the education and health sectors, such as teachers and nurses. The number clearly stacks up poorly with provinces such as British Columbia (4.1), Ontario (4.9) and Alberta (7.5).

Yet even when measured against its counterparts in Nova Scotia (9.7 ) and Newfoundland (12.1), New Brunswick’s bureaucracy is overly plump, says Ian Munro, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a think-tank based in Halifax.

In fact, the province is second-worst, ahead of only tiny Prince Edward Island (15.7).

That means with its larger population, Nova Scotia employed only 9,112 departmental bureaucrats in 2005, while New Brunswick laid claims to 10,603, according to Statistics Canada. The federal figures differ from those provided by the provincial government Thursday. Those figures show that in 2005, 11,957 bureaucrats were working in New Brunswick.

Such figures indicate an ability to thin government ranks, says Munro, who tabulated the numbers using figures from 2005 Statistics Canada data.

“You’d think so, if most provinces are delivering broadly the same services (with fewer people),” he said Thursday.

“Sometimes people try to make the argument that, ‘Oh well, it’s different in New Brunswick as compared to Ontario because New Brunswick has more of a rural population and it’s harder to deliver services.’

“But you think of the size of Ontario, with many small towns in the north and west of the province, I find that argument a bit hard to take,” he continued, also citing Nova Scotia’s comparable population and urban-rural make-up yet lower figure.

Peter Aucoin, a political science professor at Dalhousie University, says that thanks to economies of scale, smaller provinces naturally have relatively large bureaucracies.

“All the small provinces have bureaucracies that are larger per capita than the largest provinces simply because each is still a provincial government that must perform certain functions, regardless of the size of its population,” said the expert on public administration.

However, he notes, “Certain parts of a bureaucracy can get bloated because they are not well managed.”

For Munro, reducing the civil service to the smallest possible amount provides many benefits.

“Overall, if you have fewer government workers (and) you can find more efficient ways to deliver services, as perhaps these other provinces are, that means less government spending,” he said.

The result would be more money for paying down the provincial debt, lower interest rates in the future and a reduction in taxes to help stimulate the economy.

As well, it would mean more workers for the private sector, which Munro says is desperately seeking bodies.

“There are lots of very skilled and capable people in the public service who could transition quite well into careers in the private sector, and thereby generate more wealth and more tax revenue,” he said.

Premier Shawn Graham recently said he is preparing to launch structural changes within the civil service.

Graham described the changes, expected this fall, as a realignment of duties within government. He also stressed that no job cuts were coming.

That does not surprise Munro, who notes slimming the civil service is “politically difficult.”

Munro says one solution is to reduce through attrition, meaning the government ceases to hire new workers as older employees retire.

According to figures provided by the government Thursday, the number of bureaucrats was 11,563 at the end of 2006, down from 11,957 in 2005, due to changes made by the former Conservative government.

And when it came to the total civil service, including workers in the education and health branches, New Brunswick fared much better.

Its total of 88.1 workers for every 1,000 members of the population was not far off the Canadian average of 81.2.

Still, Munro does not expect to see a notable dip on the purely bureaucratic side anytime soon.

“It’s not terribly common to see large-scale layoffs in government,” he said. “Certainly it would be politically difficult and require some political courage to do. There’s no question about that.”