FREDERICTON – Finance Minister Victor Boudreau has promised modest cuts to the civil service in this month’s budget, but that appears to be a minimal threat to the province’s bloated bureaucracy.

The New Brunswick government has a swollen civil service compared to the rest of Canada, according to a study by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies that used data from Statistics Canada.

For every 1,000 people living in New Brunswick, the provincial government employed 12.9 public administration workers in 2008, the AIMS study found. That figure includes only workers in provincial departments and agencies, not public employees such as teachers and nurses.

The number stacks up poorly against provinces such as British Columbia (4.4 per 1,000), Ontario (4.9) and Alberta (7.8).

Even when measured against its counterpart, Nova Scotia (9.3), the province’s bureaucracy is relatively plump.

Statistics Canada’s adjusted census figures up to October 2008 show that New Brunswick had a population of 747,790, British Columbia 4.38 million, Ontario 12.98 million and Alberta 3.6 million.

“It does indicate that there might be some over-management,” said Bobby O’Keefe, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a think-tank based in Halifax.

“It gives a sense that there is some extra centralized control over programs,” said O’Keefe.

Only two provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador (13.4) and Prince Edward Island (17.2) – have a higher number of bureaucrats per capita. In October last year there were 508,944 people living in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 140,750 in P.E.I.

Rick Myers, a professor of political science at St. Thomas University, said economies of scale mean that smaller provinces require larger bureaucracies to provide the same level of service.

But he noted that New Brunswick has higher rate than Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, all of which have similar populations.

Saskatchewan has 9.7 people working in government for every 1,000, while Manitoba has 9.2. As of last fall there were 1.02 million residents of Saskatchewan and 1.21 million Manitobans.

Myers said that New Brunswick’s bilingual services, particularly in the Department of Education, may be one reason for the comparatively high number.

He also said the province’s largely rural population, without a single urban centre such as Halifax or Winnipeg, means that government services are more spread out and less efficient.

About 25 per cent of New Brunswick civil servants will be eligible to retire in the next five years, giving the province an opportunity to reduce the size of government.

Boudreau has said he will look for ways to cut costs to counter a $285-million deficit for the current fiscal year, including cuts to the civil service. Next year’s deficit is expected to be several million dollars more.

But Boudreau said last month that there won’t be major cuts to the civil service in the March 17 budget. He said avoiding duplication and overlap is a major priority.

“We realize the impact the civil service has, especially in Fredericton, but elsewhere in the province,” he said.

“We are mindful that in these tough economic times, laying off a whack of people is not the best solution either.”

Scott Hennig, a director at the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said cutting back on bureaucrats would allow the province to lower taxes. Roughly 80 per cent of government expenditures are devoted to wages, Hennig said.

“I think there are clearly some inefficiencies (in New Brunswick),” he said.

“If they had a more appropriate level of staffing comparable to other jurisdictions, people in New Brunswick wouldn’t have to pay so much for staffing.”