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Public-sector losses hit economy

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MANITOBA'S public sector is shrinking, and that's putting a drag on economic growth, says the province's top statistician.

Wilf Falk told a Winnipeg Realtors Association forecast breakfast on Wednesday Statistics Canada data show while Manitoba's private sector had a net gain of 6,400 positions in 2013, public-sector employment declined by two per cent, or 3,100 positions.

That was in contrast to what happened in Canada and four other provinces -- Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia -- which saw their public sectors grow by anywhere from 0.6 per cent to two per cent, Falk said.

'All of the growth we've seen over the last three years... has been in the private sector' -- Wilf Falk, Manitoba's top statistician

"So they got growth in their public sector, which added to their total employment growth," he said in a later interview. "But in Manitoba's case, it (the public sector) is taking it away, because we're down 3,100 jobs in the public sector."

Falk said that has broader ramifications, because job losses usually result in lost wages and salaries, "and that hurts the economy."

He noted 2013 was the third consecutive year public-sector employment has declined here. He said Manitoba is the only province where that has happened, and the combined losses over that period were 5,600 positions.

"So all of the growth we've seen over the last three years... has been in the private sector."

Falk said the public sector includes the three levels of government, hospitals, schools, universities and non-profit organizations. He said 1,300 of last year's public-sector job losses were in public administration (government), and the other 1,800 were in the other categories.

He said most of the government job losses were likely achieved through attrition, as governments continued to focus on deficit reduction.

"I don't think they're necessarily laying people off or firing people. It's more likely they're not filling positions when people retire or whatever."

Falk also warned the public-sector job losses could worsen over the next few years, especially if the provincial government succeeds in eliminating the $500-million deficit and Manitoba loses $100 million in federal transfer payments because of population declines cited by Statistics Canada.

The Manitoba Bureau of Statistics maintains Statistics Canada's numbers are wrong because its last census missed 16,200 Manitobans. Falk said although the federal agency admits there likely is a problem with the numbers, "they can't identify what the problem is, so they're not going to do anything about it."

 

-- Murray McNeill

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 B6

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Updated on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 6:52 AM CST: Replaces photo

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