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.