Creating stronger incentives for Business New Brunswick staff to generate new jobs in the province makes a lot of sense, according to a research director at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Ian Munro lauded the ideas put forth by public-policy expert Donald Savoie, which included slashing salaries for public servants and instituting a Margaret Thatcher-style reform of the civil service.

Thatcher cut more than 100,000 civil servants during her first seven years as prime minister to address perceived inefficiencies.

“Across the country, we tend to be overgoverned,” Munro said Monday. An abundance of civil servants not only hampers the private sector in its recruitment efforts, but also contributes to higher deficits, he said. This is especially problematic in have-not provinces such as New Brunswick, Munro added.

“The province needs to keep its eye on the fiscal ball, and one way to do that is to keep the public service in check.”

Savoie’s suggestion to cut salaries for Business New Brunswick employees and adopt a commission-based approach would also help spur growth, Munro added.

“A group intended to inspire, enhance and promote the private sector in the province, having them work more along the lines of private-sector business incentives seems like quite a sensible idea,” he said.

Premier Shawn Graham defended Business New Brunswick’s work during a job announcement in Moncton, calling the staff “exceptional.”

“We have embarked upon job creation as a key priority,” Graham said. “Job creation was not a priority of the previous government.”

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne said he would welcome new ideas, but did not foresee sweeping reforms in the near future.

“It’s always interesting to have the debate in terms of what might be the best model,” Byrne said, but “it’s not something that we’re actively considering at this time.”

Tom Mann, executive director of the New Brunswick Union, disagreed with Savoie’s proposals.

Slashing staff in the civil service is a “20-year-old solution that didn’t work,” Mann said, noting we already tried to “pull a Thatcher” here in the early 1990s, when several thousand jobs in the sector were cut.

Doing so led to adverse effects on quality of life in the province, he noted, pointing to “fewer people dedicated to inspection of restaurants, fewer people testing the water we drink, fewer people investigating the safety quality of our highways.”

While there’s always room to increase productivity, cutting for the sake of cutting is not the answer, he added.

“We’ve got to think outside of that box,” Mann said. “There’s a level of absolutely necessary public services and to start to take away from that level is not going to improve our circumstances here in New Brunswick.”

The 47,035 employees in the New Brunswick public service are divided into three areas. Government departments employ 11,505 staff, while the school system, including teachers and district staff, has 16,734. Leading the pack is the hospital system, including nurses and other hospital employees, with 18,796 staff.

Since 2003, school staff have increased by about 800; hospital staff have increased by about 2,200; and departmental staff have decreased by about 600.