The Progressive Conservatives have reduced the size of the Manitoba civil service by more than 2,000 positions since they came into office in 2016.
According to a report tabled in the legislature Tuesday, there were 12,839 civil servants as of March 31 this year — a reduction of 882 compared with the same date in 2018.
On March 31, 2016, shortly before the provincial election that brought the PCs to office after more than 16 years of NDP rule, there were 14,876 civil servants.
The finance minister said Tuesday the vast majority — 97 per cent — of the reductions occurred through attrition.
Layoffs mainly involved senior managers, whose ranks were reduced by 15 per cent, Scott Fielding said.
"We are very proud that it hasn't had an impact on front-line services," he said of the job reductions.
The size of the civil service is now at "an appropriate level," but the government would continue to run as efficient an organization as it can, Fielding said.
The union that represents civil servants disputed the contention services have not been affected.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said many civil servants are swamped with work, some "pulling triple duty," covering off several jobs at once.
"The members have been sharing with me that they’re burned out. They’re getting accused now of not doing jobs properly because they’re trying to do three and four different jobs," Gawronsky said Tuesday.
"It’s a terrible situation for them to be put into, and it’s a terrible situation for Manitobans to be put into."
One in four health inspection positions is vacant, mainly because the government refuses to pay competitive wage rates, Gawronsky said. More than 2,000 food establishments have no inspectors assigned to them, and 3,000 establishments are overdue for inspection, she said.
With winter approaching, it appears the province has fewer people in place to clear snow from highways, Gawronsky said.
With hunting season near at hand, the province is short of conservation officers. It has also heaped more responsibilities on them, including dealing with liquor and cannabis infractions, she added.
"Manitobans are going to suffer. It’s going to affect all of us," the union leader said.
Two years ago, the government set a goal of reducing the civil service by 1,200 positions by the time it reached the three-year mark in its mandate. It exceeded its target by 837.
In the past year, all government departments lost positions except for the Civil Service Commission, the Offices of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council. Among the departments with large reductions were families (160), infrastructure (225) and justice (166).
"They had a target and that target was eight per cent and they’re 50 per cent above that, so that’s a little bit more than just trimming government services. They’re slashing at this point, and this is going to affect programming," he said.
The staff reductions may snowball, Wasyliw said.
"What you’re going to see is demoralized civil servants who can’t keep up with the workload because there’s a fraction of the people in their unit and they’re going to start leaving. And if they have good job opportunities (elsewhere), we’re going to lose a lot of talented, dedicated public servants because the government at this point is recklessly cutting," he said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew pressed Premier Brian Pallister about the "overly aggressive" civil service cuts at a budget committee meeting Tuesday.
Such large reductions in civil servants could have an adverse impact on the economy, Kinew said.
Pallister said he disagreed with Kinew that bigger government and a stronger economy go hand in hand.
"He's equating two things that don't go together very well," the premier said.
— with files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 7:12 PM CDT: adds graphic