Whitehorse Daily Star

YG has tripled in size in 24 years

It should come as a shock to no one that the Yukon government is the territory’s largest employer – but just how big is it?

By Sidney Cohen on August 11, 2017

It should come as a shock to no one that the Yukon government is the territory’s largest employer – but just how big is it?

Unlike the Northwest Territories, which also has a sizeable public service, the Yukon does not report the number of government jobs in its annual budget.

But this wasn’t always the case.

The Yukon government stopped publishing the number of full-time equivalent positions in the budget in 1992, under then-government leader John Ostashek (he refused to use the title of premier).

According to a high-ranking government official from that time, the Yukon Party leader ended the practice at the urging of senior bureaucrats. Apparently, they were tired of answering questions from the opposition and the press about government growth after every new budget dropped.

Ironically, Ostashek railed against the size of government some years later, when he was relegated to opposition after losing the Sept. 30, 1996 election to the NDP’s Piers McDonald.

The former official recalled Ostashek slamming the government directory, listing employees’ phone numbers, on his desk in the legislative assembly to emphasize the institution’s prodigious size.

Though government job numbers aren’t published in the budget today, they are available in the Public Service Commission’s annual reports.

In 1992, the last year the numbers were reported, there was a total of 1,426.87 full-time equivalent positions in the Yukon government.

In the fourth quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year, there were 4,623.3 full-time equivalent government jobs.

In other words, in 24 years, the Yukon government has more than tripled in size.

(In the second quarter of 2017, the most recent count, there were 4,729.8 full-time equivalent government positions.)

On Dec. 31, 2016, there was a total of 5,518 people on the Yukon government’s payroll.

This figure includes term employees (205), permanent (3,957), casual (140), auxiliary on-call (786) and “others” (499).

It does not include elected officials (of whom there are 19), judges (three), justices of the peace (33), appointees to government and agency boards, co-op and student hires, substitute teachers and pensioners. 

To put the government’s size in perspective, consider that in December 2016, the Yukon Bureau of Statistics recorded 20,800 working people in the territory.

This means that in the month of December, roughly a quarter of working Yukoners took home a government paycheque.

The Yukon government’s expansion has greatly outpaced population growth.

In December 1992, there were 32,332 people living in the territory, according to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics.

On Dec. 31, 2016, the Yukon’s population was 38,293.

This means the territory’s population grew 18 per cent in 24 years, while the territorial government expanded 224 per cent.

To be sure, part of this growth can be attributed to devolution.

In the early 2000s, that process saw the federal government transfer a number of responsibilities to the Yukon government, namely, authority over public lands, forestry, water and mineral resources.

The Public Service Commission says 246 employees were added to the Yukon government as a result of devolution.

Yukon airports were transfered from the federal to the territorial government in 1996, which also added to the government’s payroll.

Still, over the last decade, the territorial government has continued to spend heavily on personnel.

Though Yukon governments haven’t published their job numbers in the budget since 1992, they do report the amount spent on government staff.

This figure is called the “personnel allotment,” and it includes salaries paid to MLAs, justices of the peace, substitute teachers and all the other employees excluded from the number of employees mentioned earlier (5,518).

(The number of employees is not to be confused with full-time equivalent positions, of which there were 4,729.8 in the second quarter of 2017.)

Over the last decade, the amount spent on personnel has grown in relative proportion to the total budget.

The government earmarked more than $516 million for personnel in 2017-18. That’s about 36 per cent of the total $1.44-billion budget.

Ten years ago, the personnel allotment came in at just under $309 million – also about 36 per cent of the budget, which was then about $862 million.

Examined another way, the amount spent on personnel has gone up more than $207 million – or 67 per cent – in the last 10 years.

This trend is unsustainable, said the former government official.

It is especially so considering that the territory faces at least three years of large deficits, starting at $49 million in 2018-19.

Cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman told the Star Tuesday afternoon that Richard Mostyn, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, would not be available for an interview for this story.

Workman was asked if the government plans to continue increasing the amount it spends on government employees.

In an email, Workman responded this way:

“The Yukon government is here to provide service to the public and will ensure it has the staff necessary to meet those needs.

“We are committed to an evidence-based approach in decision-making, and, if additional positions are required, for example nurses or mental health workers, positions will be created in response to a demonstrated public need.”

The Yukon Party, which was in power for 14 years before the November 2016 election, maintains government growth has been responsive and reasonable.

“We understand very well the challenges in assessing the various needs and requests made by departments, the general public and others,” Brad Cathers, the Yukon Party finance critic, said in an interview Tuesday.

“We did feel that the size of government, the size of the public service, when we left office, was generally in keeping with the current needs of the territory.”

Cathers doesn’t think it’s a big deal that government job numbers aren’t published in the annual budget, as long as they remain publicly available.

Anticipating budget deficits, the premier has rallied a panel of local and Outside experts to assess the books and present options to remedy the situation.

Everything is on the table, Premier Sandy Silver has said, except for cuts to the public service.

Indeed, such propositions have spelled disaster for politicians in the past.

When the Ontario Progressive Conservatives were defeated in the 2014 provincial election by the incumbent Liberals, many observers attributed the loss to then-PC leader Tim Hudak’s pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

To some extent, those weary senior bureaucrats got their way.

After the government stopped reporting the number of full-time equivalent positions in the budget, the size of the public service diminished in political importance.

Today, the territory’s big government is largely taken for granted.

“The reason this happened,” the former government official said about the ballooning of government, “is because it happened outside the public viewing, because there’s no disclosure any more.

“It’s hidden.”

Comments (23)

Up 8 Down 7

Hugh Mungus on Aug 15, 2017 at 3:41 pm

@ Reality check
Every bubble would burst. You lose a couple thousand decent paying jobs, people pull up stakes and move Outside. Then a grocery store closes. Then a car dealership. Then a school. Then a wing at the hospital. Then a trucking company. Then a few retail outlets. And so on and so on and so on.

Your blind spot for a basic understanding of economics is fascinating. If the housing bubble were to burst what do you think would happen? Thousands of homeowners would lose 30-40% (or more) of the value of their homes. Many would owe tens or hundreds of thousands more than their home is worth. We saw this in the US a few years ago, guess what happened? People walked away from their homes, defaulted on their mortgages and many plunged into bankruptcy. People at your place of work would get laid off, maybe even you. Welcome to Faro 2.0!

Up 24 Down 4

Reality check on Aug 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm

@ Hugh Mungus: "Regardless, the public sector fuels the local economy. All those govy workers buy houses, ..."

Sure, without them the real estate bubble would burst pretty quick because nobody else is able to afford those over-inflated prices for boring, standardized houses on stamp sized lots (Whistle Bend) or overpriced mobile homes with even more overpriced pad rents in our "well-maintained parks" (Takhini)...

Up 22 Down 2

Lost in the Yukon on Aug 14, 2017 at 3:59 pm

... and while Departments have grown in size with many "senior" positions coming from outside the sense of entitlement has also grown and the frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars. It is rumored that recently the DM of HSS (a hire from Alberta) took her staff to a local lake for swimming and bonding on your dime.

Up 42 Down 3

ProScience Greenie on Aug 14, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Also seems to be triple the condescending smugness in the Yukon than there was 25 years ago as shown in the comment below. You're better than that HM.

Many gov workers are awesome but for sure lots of 30 minute coffee break dead weight types leaving the good gov workers to pick up the slack. That needs to be fixed asap.

Up 29 Down 27

rs on Aug 14, 2017 at 10:58 am

Many more YG services are provided to Yukoners than were provided 25 years ago. If you think cutting back on YG employees providing those services is a good idea... then you can't complain after... when you need those services.

Up 26 Down 22

Miles Ocean on Aug 14, 2017 at 10:53 am

With devolution, land claims, more environmental awareness, increased health care requirements and and more seniors staying in Yukon it's not surprising to see the Yukon government increase staffing.

My observation is that many of the gov employees are highly educated and motivated and very hard workers.

It's very easy to bash people. If the government decides to reduce spending by trimming the public service I hope they do it thoughtfully and slowly. I do, for example, want enough teachers and nurses and biologists and conservation officers to make this a nice place to live.

Up 12 Down 31

Hugh Mungus on Aug 14, 2017 at 9:11 am

@ jc

You should go get your grade 10 and apply on a govy job.

Up 38 Down 6

Steve O on Aug 13, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Don't even mention the nepotism.

Up 58 Down 6

yukoner72 on Aug 13, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Yukon Gov't has difficulty hiring one or two nurses for the communities. I notice that there are 58 policy analysts. What's wrong with this picture?

Up 11 Down 20

ghenghiskhan on Aug 13, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Empires do not shrink until after they collapse. Three reasons for collapse : Internal strife, barbarian invasion, economic failure.

Add one more: Climate Change.

Up 42 Down 21

jc on Aug 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Many of these government workers are closet supporters of the environuts and conservationists. Reduce the gov work force by 1/3 and see how long it takes for them to support the mining and gas/oil industry while desperately looking for private sector jobs. Wouldn't take 20 years or more to open a mine either.
Would like to see many of them working on the service side of the fast food restaurants too.

Up 44 Down 5

Math on Aug 12, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Put this story and the next together and it is evident there is at least 1 high-end manager pulling in the 100K for every 4 underling doers. Therein lies the YTG problem, they need to set the actual productive workers free from this bloated management mass.

Up 35 Down 24

Hugh Mungus on Aug 12, 2017 at 5:05 pm

So Jc you witness 30 minute coffee breaks? I assume that means you are either on the dole or on your coffee break extends beyond 30 minutes.

Regardless, the public sector fuels the local economy. All those govy workers buy houses, cars, groceries, goods and services. The supply health care, education, social services, law enforcement etc. Without them Whitehorse would revert back to a few dozen shacks on Whiskey Flats.

Up 31 Down 11

Dave on Aug 12, 2017 at 2:01 pm

One quarter of all Yukon employees are employed by YTG, while probably another 50% of Yukon workers jobs are completely dependant on recycled YTG money making its way through the territory.
As for us average Yukon taxpayers, I don't think we have anything to complain about considering the big picture as we receive so much for the overall pittance we actually contribute in taxes. I'm guessing that if Yukon had to exist on our own taxpayer revenue we might be able to provide a very scaled back version of health care and you could basically forget about roads, schools, and most everything else. Overnight we would be a 3rd world jurisdiction, so if anyone is to be upset about this it's Canadians down south who are picking up our tab in a big way to provide our services. Meanwhile we now enjoy some of the lowest user fees and taxes in the country, go somewhere else and start paying property transfer taxes, 30 cents a liter or more in provincial gas tax and over $200 per year for a licence plate for example.

Up 40 Down 13

Allan Foster on Aug 12, 2017 at 12:58 pm

soooooo many Civil Servants for 40,000 people .....
soooooo little useful work to go 'round ........

Up 64 Down 15

Martin on Aug 12, 2017 at 8:01 am

To tell you the truth; I gave up on complaining about the volume of the YG employees. I just would like them to let the private sector work and stop being an encumbrance on private sector productivity. They, just to justify their existence, only create problems disguised as paperwork.

Up 70 Down 15

ProScience Greenie on Aug 12, 2017 at 5:16 am

Get a few drinks into many government workers and they'll tell you that the workforce could easily be reduced by one third and actually function a whole lot better.
A good cleanup of the bloat and fluff is long overdue and would come with the added benefit of reducing the Yukon's carbon footprint.

Up 49 Down 12

jack on Aug 11, 2017 at 11:19 pm

A quick calculation shows roughly 50% of the Territorial Budget goes to staff salaries and benefits A 100K$ salary draws 150K$ from the budget.
Unless something is done, this will hit 60% in no time. City of Whitehorse is well on the way.

Ultimately, our taxes will only cover salaries and benefits of YTG employees where every government service will then be funded by either a hidden consumption tax or a nasty user-fee (i.e $500 for a driver's license with 1 year validity, $1000 annual fishing license, oxygen or sunshine tax etc).

How is it that this outrageous situation is not even worth reporting by the local media?

Up 47 Down 23

jc on Aug 11, 2017 at 10:38 pm

And I've actually seen many of these government workers taking half hour plus coffee breaks in local restaurants.

Up 42 Down 17

jc on Aug 11, 2017 at 10:34 pm

And these are all high paid positions paid for by a minority of low paid jobs. And also, one has to take into consideration all the welfare money going out and the millions to support the FN. I'm sure even communist countries would be scratching their heads over this type of socialism.

Up 42 Down 9

BnR on Aug 11, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Good point Ted.
YG should lay-off employees and get us down to a more reasonable number, say 1992 numbers? That would make everything better again, once all these ex-gov employees are gone. Whitehorse would be nice and quiet again.
Of course, most everything else would shut down too, but a small price to pay for getting things all squared away.

Up 47 Down 12

ralpH on Aug 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

This story falls short on a few facts. First is the cost of incompetence that employees hamper the Government with each year. Second is the pensions and golden parachutes that are allotted. And third is what it costs to find facilities for all these employees to work. Fourth all the contractors that rely on make work projects for their employees I.E four lanes through Whitehorse Sheesh!! Reality is not only will there be a backlash politically from down sizing but the economy would crash. On payday the stores and retailers bustle with shoppers that know no end to the gravy train. Time to stop believing we are on the same scale as Vancouver.

Up 64 Down 14

tedbundy on Aug 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Makes perfect sense - more bodies required to shore up the ever-increasing size of the begging bowl that gets presented to Ottawa every Fiscal Year.

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