Ottawa’s pandemic hiring boom adds billions to federal payroll


A pandemic-fuelled hiring spree has grown the federal civil service by greater than 35,000 individuals since April 2020, in accordance to a CBC News evaluation, serving to add billions to Ottawa’s payroll prices.

Figures equipped by the Treasury Board and different ministries and departments present the federal authorities added 19,151 jobs within the fiscal 12 months ending March 31, 2021, and one other 16,356 positions in fiscal 2022. All advised, the feds now make use of 335,957 individuals throughout the nation: a 12 per cent enhance from pre-COVID occasions, and the best variety of public servants in Canadian historical past.

An further 28,176 bureaucrats have been on long-term go away in 2022, not receiving their full salaries, however a lot of whom stay eligible for taxpayer-funded top-ups, advantages, insurance coverage and pension contributions.

In fiscal 2021 Ottawa spent $59.623 billion on personnel prices, together with salaries, pensions, advantages and additional time, a rise of $4.438 billion from the prior monetary 12 months. Payroll prices for 2022 seemingly elevated by an identical quantity, though the ultimate determine will not be out there till the Public Accounts are revealed in December.

The super-charged price of progress throughout the pandemic surprises even the previous Parliamentary Budget Officer.

“That’s a substantive enhance,” mentioned Kevin Page, an economist who now heads the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy on the University of Ottawa. “It’s rising nicely in extra of 5 per cent a 12 months, which is far, a lot quicker than the non-public sector and quicker than the speed of progress in the true financial system.”

The bulk of the pandemic-era hiring occurred throughout simply 4 authorities departments:

  • The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) — charged with administering the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and different COVID-19 helps — grew by 9,900 workers over the 2 fiscal years.
  • Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), which is liable for passport processing and Service Canada places of work, added 8,500 positions.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which has been coping with the crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine — together with an enormous backlog of visa purposes — employed 1,750 individuals.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which coordinated the nationwide pandemic response, crammed 1,900 jobs.

In emailed statements, PHAC and ESDC each mentioned that greater than half of their new hires have been non-permanent positions, whereas the CRA famous that its workforce rises and falls with the tax season. 

Overall, 82.2 per cent of federal workers have been in everlasting positions, whereas 12.4 per cent crammed non permanent jobs, and 5.4 per cent have been termed “informal staff,” per a 2021 government-produced “snapshot” of the general public service.

Increased by nearly a 3rd since 2015 

The CBC News evaluation reveals the dimensions of the general public service has been rising steadily since 2015, when the Liberal Party took energy. Over eight fiscal years, Ottawa has employed a further 79,000 workers, increasing the federal workforce by nearly 31 p.c. And head counts have elevated in 79 of the 84 authorities departments and businesses which have been in steady operation over that interval.

The public service knowledge would not embody members of the Canadian army, or civilian or uniformed workers of the RCMP. According to the newest out there figures, the Department of National Defence had 93,252 workers in fiscal 2019, whereas the RCMP employed 31,119.

WATCH | Federal payroll prices soared by $8 billion throughout pandemic: 

Ottawa’s pandemic hiring boom adds billions to federal payroll

A CBC News evaluation reveals the federal civil service grew by greater than 35,000 individuals over the two-year COVID-19 pandemic — a 12 per cent enhance, with 4 authorities departments accounting for the lion’s share of the brand new jobs.

Nor does it mirror staff at Crown companies akin to Canada Post, VIA Rail, or CBC/Radio-Canada.

The workings of presidency have made the fast growth of the federal paperwork troublesome to monitor, says Page.

“The general image of what’s occurring to the general public service — what number of workers? What’s the wage bill? — It’s just about buried,” mentioned Page. “No one is absolutely monitoring this.”

Back in 2012, when Page was nonetheless working for Parliament, he ready a report that discovered the typical public servant value taxpayers greater than $114,000 a 12 months in complete compensation. The progress of federal wages and advantages had outpaced each inflation, and different non-public and public employers, for 13 years working. 

Kevin Page seems at Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in April 2012. The former Parliamentary finances officer wonders if the federal authorities has a plan when it comes to its public service hiring. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The most up-to-date determine out there from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, for the 2019 fiscal 12 months, places the typical value at $121,000.

Page believes the general public deserves extra transparency. 

“There isn’t any strategic human useful resource plan you realize for the Government of Canada,” he mentioned. “There’s no proof whether or not or not we have made actually good hiring selections with the numerous enhance within the complement of the general public service.”

The progress of the general public service in each dimension and price can also be a priority to private-sector foyer teams just like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Dan Kelly, the group’s president and CEO, says a short lived uptick to reply to the challenges of COVID-19 and the cratering world financial system made sense, however now he worries about long-term sustainability.

“We’re doubtlessly heading right into a recession. An enormous civil service is just not going to assist us by way of remaining lean sufficient to have the option to reply to challenges and forestall additional tax will increase to pay for all of it,” mentioned Kelly. 

He wonders why Ottawa’s reply to each drawback appears to be growing head counts. 

“The federal authorities likes to speak about, you realize, altering enterprise fashions and is lecturing companies about going surfing and digitizing their companies,” mentioned Kelly. “Meanwhile, there’s treasured little of that taking place inside authorities itself.” 

Mona Fortier, the federal cupboard minister who serves as president of the Treasury Board, declined a CBC News interview request, however in a press release defended the federal government’s hiring report, saying Ottawa is maintaining an in depth eye on prices throughout ongoing negotiations with public service unions. 

“Our authorities is targeted on delivering help for Canadians who want it most whereas responsibly managing public funds,” mentioned the assertion. “The authorities is dedicated to negotiating in good religion and to reaching agreements which can be truthful to workers and cheap for Canadians.”

What would you narrow as an alternative, asks economist

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the biggest public service union, has been in search of a 13.5 per cent wake hike over three years. The newest authorities supply is eight per cent over 4 years.

The public service has shrunk at numerous occasions — most lately throughout the closing 5 years of the Stephen Harper authorities when the federal paperwork was diminished by nearly 26,000 positions between 2010 and 2015. 

Economist and Atkinson Fellow for the Future of Work, Armine Yalnizyan, says federal bureaucrats are simple to criticize, however arduous to change when it comes to the companies that Canadians need and want. (Christian Patry/CBC)

But as economist Armine Yalnizyan notes, its dimension proportionate to Canada’s rising inhabitants and general workforce has remained comparatively small and steady — 0.87 per cent and two p.c, respectively, in 2022. 

“I assume you might complain in regards to the progress in value as extra individuals have been added. But then I might ask you to query what would you narrow if you happen to did not need to add that value? What form of companies would you not need? Maybe much less emergency pandemic response revenue helps, perhaps fewer wage subsidies, perhaps fewer non permanent overseas staff, perhaps much less coaching or EI?” requested Yalnizyan, an Atkinson Fellow for the Future of Workers.

“You know, all of these items include a price ticket.”

Yalnizyan says bureaucrats are at all times a tender goal, and a helpful distraction from larger, systemic problems with inequality within the financial system.

“We are very a lot right into a struggle of employee towards employee, public sector towards non-public sector, unionized employee towards un-unionized employee prefer it’s now the employees fault. It’s the federal government’s fault. Everybody’s bought a straw canine to kick,” she mentioned.

“But it is not staff which can be to blame. It’s an entire collection of things which can be really arduous to tackle as a result of they did not come from anyone doing the fallacious factor.” 

Jonathon Gatehouse will be contacted by way of e mail at, or reached by way of the CBC’s digitally encrypted Securedrop system at


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