PBO to delve into public service salaries, comparisons with private sector

OTTAWA – Canada’s budget watchdog is publishing new research today that may shed some light into whether taxpayers are getting value from the public service.

The reports will again explore the impact of the $5.2 billion in savings contained in the March 2012 budget, for which Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has taken Ottawa to court in an effort to obtain more information.

But as well, the PBO will calculate the cost of the average public servant and analyze the growth of the service over the past two decades, comparing trends with some segments of the private sector.

In a note, Page says he hopes the reports will “help open the door for Canadians and Parliamentarians on one of the biggest black boxes of federal spending — federal personnel expenses.”

Page said those expenses totalled $43.8 billion in 2011-12, representing 38 per cent of direct program spending.

Page said the reports will offer both information and analysis.

Since taking office, the Harper government has both been criticized — at different times — for both bloating the public service and radically cutting it back.

Recently, the Treasury Department reported it had cut about 11,000 in the first six months of the three-year program to eliminate 19,200 positions.

There has been little analysis about whether the cutbacks have impacted service to Canadians, however.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Gregory Thomas said even when all the jobs have been eliminated, the Harper government will still have about 11,000 more public servants than was the case in 2006, when the Conservatives were elected.

He says the calculus often used in rationalizing growth in the public sector is at odds with how the private sector operates.

“There is an idea that the public service should grow in line with population, but it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“Newsrooms don’t work that way, and neither does General Motors.”

The PBO reports will be issued at 9 a.m.