How AB’s public sector changed under the NDP & UCP

With the latest issue of the Labour Market Survey, we now have enough data to compare how the public sector workforce changed under the NDP and under the UCP.

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released the May 2023 results of their Labour Market Survey. One of the data tables includes information on workers broken down by public and private sectors.

I was curious to see how the public sector changed since May 2015, when the NDP were elected, and May 2023, marking a full 4 years under the UCP.

First, here’s a look at the change in total numbers between the start and end of each party’s first term in government.

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Start of termEnd of termChange% change

Under the UCP, the public sector grew to its largest size ever, more than 6.5% of what it was during the NDP’s final month,

That being said, the NDP also increased the public sector while they were in charge. Between May 2015 and April 2019, the NDP administration saw Alberta’s public sector swell by 43,000 new workers, an increase of nearly 11%.

Compare that to the UCP, which saw only a little over 28,000 more workers.

As well, the public sector went from 20.39% of the workforce at the start of the NDP’s term to 22.43% by the end of the term. Under the UCP’s first 4 years in power, it dropped slightly to 21.74% of the total workforce. Still higher than when the NDP took power, but not as high as when the NDP left office.

Here’s a look at the monthly public sector employment data between May 2015 and May 2023. The red dot in the middle of the graph represents April 2019, when Alberta’s government switched from NDP to UCP.

We see that during the NDP’s first year in office, there was very little difference in the public sector, increasing by 7,900, or just 2.02%. However, public sector jobs increased dramatically more over the following 3 years.

Under the UCP, however, public sector jobs plummeted from 452,400 in June 2019 to 385,300 by July 2020, the lowest the public sector saw during the UCP’s first term and lower than what it was when the NDP took power.

That’s a loss of 67,100, or 14.8%.

However, that changed with the COVID-19 pandmeic. Between July and October 2020, the UCP administration increased its public sector by nearly 55,000 workers to hit 440,200.

And over the next 2.5 years, the province’s public sector saw monthly average employment hover around 441,311, just a little over what it had shot up to by October 2020 and slightly lower than the 443,200 it had reached at the end of the NDP’s term.

Regardless, all the cuts introduced by the UCP government under Jason Kenney’s first year in power were completely wiped out in the following 3 years.

Now, let’s take a look at how each administration distributed those new public sector workers. Hint: they weren’t all just public servants, despite what some people might have you believe.

Statistics Canada reports public sector worker data for only 8 industries. Here’s how these sectors looked at the beginning and ending of each party’s first term:

May 2015Apr 2019May 2023
Health care and social assistance123,200129,100141,600
Educational services119,900129,700147,300
Public administration96,600117,000112,600
Transportation and warehousing18,40015,80014,500
Information, culture and recreation5,10010,50013,600
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing4,9007,3009,500

The industry with the largest number of public sector workers by the end of the NDP’s term was educational services, with health care and social assistance being a close second.

The UCP saw a similar makeup.

Now let’s look at the change in workers under each party.

NDP changeNDP % changeUCP changeUCP % change
Public administration20,40021.12%-4,400-3.76%
Educational services9,8008.17%17,60013.57%
Health care and social assistance5,9004.79%12,5009.68%
Information, culture and recreation5,400105.88%3,10029.52%
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing2,40048.98%2,20030.14%
Transportation and warehousing-2,600-14.13%-1,300-8.23%

The group that saw the largest increase under the NDP was public administration. Under the UCP, however, the largest increase was in educational services.

While the NDP were in power, only two other areas saw larger increases than they did under the UCP: “information, culture and recreation” and “finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing”.

The largest decrease under the NDP was in transportation and warehousing, which saw 2,600 fewer workers by the time the party was voted out in the spring of 2019.

Under the UCP, the largest decrease was in public administration, which lost 4,400 workers. However that was only 22% of the total that the NDP hired. Which means the UCP kept nearly 80% of the public administration workers hired under the NDP.

On a percentage basis, the NDP oversaw its largest increase in the “information, culture and recreation” sector, which more than doubled. The “finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing”, on the other hand, saw the largest percentage growth under the UCP, increasing by over 30%.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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