PBO says fed gov’t payroll ‘worrisome,’ up 26% since 2015

Yves Giroux
Yves GirouxImage courtesy of CBC

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said on Thursday the amount of money the federal government spends on its employees' salaries is “worrisome.”

According to Blacklock’s Reporter, an official estimate shows the number of people working in the federal government has gone up by 26% since 2015.

“Yes, it is worrisome,” Giroux testified at the Commons Government Operations committee. He added there was no evidence Canadians benefited from service improvements that justified extra hiring.

“What does it look like for cuts?” asked New Democrat MP Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni, BC). 

“We have not looked at the impact of potential reductions in the public service,” replied Giroux. 

“Where would that be? What would it look like? What would be the impact on public services? It is something we will consider doing once we are able to get more information.”

The Budget Office, in an April 4 report Full-Time Equivalents in the Federal Public Service, estimated the government’s payroll would reach 428,000 employees this year. 

“This represents an increase of 23,000 compared to last year’s plans,” it said. The federal payroll totalled 340,461 employees in 2015.

Bloc Quebecois MP Julie Vignola (Beauport-Limoilou, QC) stated on Thursday taxpayers have not witnessed improvements in services that match the significant increase in hiring by the government.

“Despite hiring many new public servants, there have been issues,” said Vignola, citing by example, lengthy delays in passport services.

“Is it worrisome?” asked Vignola. 

“This is an issue I am particularly interested in,” replied Giroux. 

“I have noticed a marked increase in the number of public servants since 2016 and a proportional increase in spending that corresponds with the increase in the payroll.”

“But we haven’t seen similar improvements when it comes to service,” said Giroux. 

“In 2022, we saw issues with passports, with Border Services and with wait times in other sectors, so yes, it is worrisome.”

Giroux went even further during his testimony on February 7 before the Senate National Finance committee, stating he believed the federal government was “broken” and required aggressive actions to address the issues.

“There needs to be a crack of the whip, big time,” said Giroux.

“There is a system that is broken. The government will ‘invest’ or will spend that many millions to do this and do that. Okay, but what will be the result?”

Giroux said the cabinet was “not very well equipped” to manage departments. Self-serving Departmental Results reports were used to conceal mediocrity, he said.

“The targets in Departmental Results reports are determined in large part by the public servants responsible for delivering the programs themselves: assistant deputy ministers, approved by deputy ministers, approved by ministers,” said Giroux. 

“But in my experience, ministers are not very well equipped to challenge their own officials.”

“We end up in a situation where it is public servants responsible for delivering programs that set their own targets and they usually set the bar not too high so it doesn’t look too easy, but neither too low so it’s fairly easy to achieve most of the time,” said Giroux.  

“Yet by their own assessment, they fail to deliver on many of these. So there is a system that is broken.”

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