Pandemic hiring boom: Government added nearly 20,000 employees in one year

Almost half of the job gains were accounted for by just three departments and agencies on the front lines of the war against the novel coronavirus.

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The Trudeau administration spent so much money in the first year of the pandemic that it was easy to lose sight of the profound growth in the size of the federal government’s workforce.

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According to data compiled by the Treasury Board, employment across the country jumped more than 6% year over year to 319,600 for all departments and agencies. That’s an increase of almost 20,000 between the first three months of 2020 and the same period last year.

Last year’s increase was more than double the average annual employment gains posted by federal government workers between 2015 and 2020, spanning the years the Liberals were in power. The financial impact has been significant: The federal government’s total payroll reached nearly $60 billion in fiscal year 2021, up $4.4 billion from a year earlier, according to data. public accounts.

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Almost half of the job gains were accounted for by just three departments and agencies on the front lines of the war against the novel coronavirus. The Public Health Agency of Canada, tasked with coordinating Canada’s response, boosted its workforce by 40% in the first year of the pandemic, to a jump of 941.

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The Department of Employment and Social Development and the Canada Revenue Agency, which worked together to design and deliver emergency benefits to Canadians, increased employment by 21% and 5.3% , respectively, for a combined total gain of nearly 8,000.

A file photo of the Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa.  The CRA was one of the federal departments and agencies with the largest hiring increases in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021.
A file photo of the Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa. The CRA was one of the federal departments and agencies with the largest hiring increases in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

Two unusual events unrelated to the pandemic contributed to the rise in employment last year. Early last year, Elections Canada added 358 staff – a 40% jump – in preparation for the September 20 federal election. And Statistics Canada and its polling group have hired an additional 1,700 people to help with the 2021 national census.

The only department that has experienced a significant drop in employment is Health Canada, an anomaly that can be explained by government reorganization. Health Canada said the 18% drop in its employment levels last year reflected the transfer of one of its units to Indigenous Services Canada, which in turn saw a 23% increase in its employment levels. ‘use.

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One of the biggest surprises has been the marginal increase in employment at Public Services and Procurement Canada, the government’s central procurement agency, which has been pressured to negotiate billions of dollars in on-the-fly contracts for personal protective equipment, vaccines and COVID-19 tests, among others.

Despite a tendency for large organizations to centralize during a crisis, this does not seem to be happening with the federal government. The Capital Region accounted for 42% of total employment as of March 31, 2021, down slightly from pre-pandemic levels. A major influence has been the employment service, which last year hired more quickly in other regions of the country than in Ottawa or Gatineau: an increase of more than 20% compared to 14% for the region of the capital.

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What is not yet clear is how permanent the employment increases from last year will be.

Early last year, Elections Canada added 358 staff – a 40% jump – in preparation for the September 20 federal election.
Early last year, Elections Canada added 358 staff – a 40% jump – in preparation for the September 20 federal election. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

It is clear that the number of jobs at Statistics Canada and Elections Canada will show declines in future surveys. And the need for people to develop and administer emergency programs also seems diminished.

However, Statistics Canada’s Labor Force Survey, which samples a slightly wider universe of federal government employees — that includes the military, for example — suggests that hiring has continued unabated. The latest monthly snapshot estimates there were 457,400 federal government employees in February, down from around 410,000 in the same month a year earlier. The same data shows a year-over-year decline of 5% for the capital region.

If most additions become permanent, this will have a huge impact on the government’s balance sheet, as accountants must record estimates of the cost of future benefits earned by each employee during the year.

According to public accounts, the government added $19.2 billion in future benefits earned by employees last year. Compared to total expenses to augment of $270 billion in fiscal year 2021 — it ended March 31 — that may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.

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