In Brief: When the latest Statistics Canada report indicated the number of civil servants had dropped in the province, most treated it as a bad thing. But AIMS Director of Research Ian Munro points out that a drop in the number of civil servants is actually a good thing.

The New Brunswick civil service shed about 450 workers in the first three months of this year, according to newly released figures.

Statistics Canada, the agency that released the report, doesn’t have information on why the drop in jobs. An official with the New Brunswick government said it’s a normal fluctuation of the workplace.

“It’s just an example of somebody retires and it takes a couple of weeks or a couple of months to replace them,” said Sarah Ketcheson, a spokeswoman for the province’s Office of Human Resources. “There’s no single event that caused the decline.”

Despite the drop, one observer thinks the public sector is still bloated.

“In general, a decline is a good thing,” said Ian Munro, a research director at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. “We’ve tended, historically and currently, to be overgoverned.”

He said freeing up money used for public sector wages and salaries, and using it to lower taxes or reduce the debt would spur more private-sector activity. That means more income and growth for businesses.

“There’s lots of employers who can’t find the people they need,” he said. “In general, I think we need to see more of that shift of people going from the public sector – where I think they can get by with fewer bodies – and more people going into those private sector opportunities.”

According to the report, which includes civil servants in all government departments, as well as college, vocational and trade institutions, and local school district employees, the number of New Brunswick government workers dropped to almost 25,600 in March from 26,050 in December. This doesn’t include workers who don’t work directly for departments.

Ketcheson said her provincial office is only issuing 85 fewer cheques, not the 450 as indicated in the Stats Can report. Their numbers are lower because Statistics Canada counts workers that the provincial government doesn’t.

Even with the drop, New Brunswick still has one of the most bloated public service sectors in the country.

Numbers taken from a different Statistics Canada report released in 2005, show that New Brunswick has 14.1 bureaucrats for every 1,000 people, the second-highest per capita ratio in the country.

Munro thinks the drop should continue if the province plans to move forward, and points out the federal government of the early 1990s as an example.

“They were hitting the deficit wall, so they imposed some pretty strong fiscal restraint”¦which meant that a lot of public sector positions were limited,” he said.

Munro said he can remember great angst about destroying the city, but “none of that really happened.”

“Lots of people moved out of the public sector,” he said. “You saw a tremendous period of private-sector growth in Ottawa, the city itself and the region. Having a lot of those talented and skilled individuals who could move on to take those private sector opportunities certainly helped the economy there.”