COVID-19 has shone a light on a fundamental divide within Canada: the growing government bureaucracy and those forced to pay for it.
This contrast is illustrated by Statistics Canada’s latest jobs report. The private sector, including those who are self-employed, has shed 520,400 jobs since COVID-19 hit us, while the number of government jobs across the country has increased by 180,000.
Of those new government jobs, 52,900 are public administration bureaucrats.
These new government positions spur on a higher tax burden for many families saddled with pay cuts and job losses and for businesses that were ordered to shut down.
Unfortunately, this isn’t new. This bureaucrat surge follows years of increases.
“Ottawa’s public service has swelled by roughly 10,000 bureaucrats per year under Trudeau, to roughly 380,000 today,” wrote Postmedia reporter Jesse Snyder in May.
We just endured months of government lockdowns, so let’s do a thought experiment.
What does a gym owner who’s fighting to keep their business lights on need more: tax relief and red tape reductions, or more bureaucrat mouths to feed?
On top of the government job gains, Canadian taxpayers also have to pay for pay raises for politicians and thousands of bureaucrats during the pandemic.
Members of Parliament pocketed not one, but two pay raises during COVID-19. The pay hikes range from $6,900 for a backbench MP to $13,800 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Before these pay raises, Trudeau and his ministers were already within the top one per cent of Canadian income earners.
This is in stark contrast to politicians in New Zealand who quickly stood in solidarity with taxpayers.
“We acknowledge New Zealanders who are reliant on wage subsidies, taking pay cuts and losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “I can confirm that myself and government ministers and public service chief executives will take a 20 per cent pay cut for the next six months.”
Back home in Canada, government bureaucrats gobbled-up pay raises alongside of politicians.
Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show more than 18,000 provincial government bureaucrats and post-secondary employees received a raise during lockdowns last year in Alberta.
Same goes at city hall.
Nearly 14,000 employees at the city of Calgary and more than 34,000 employees at the city of Toronto received a raise last year. How many other cities and provinces handed-out pay raises while taxpayers struggled through lockdowns?
It’s a similar story at the federal level, where the feds agreed to hike the pay for thousands of its employees.
It’s tough to track down any government bureaucrat that took a pay cut during the lockdowns. In fact, the federal government has no records of its employees ever receiving a pay cut, according to research from the think tank Secondstreet.org.
Fortunately, there are some politicians, such as Alberta’s Jason Kenney, who are trying to make the government payroll fairer to the taxpayers who pay for it.
Premier Kenney is proposing a three or four per cent wage reduction for employees. By comparison, any private sector worker lucky enough to take that hair cut over the last five-plus years in Alberta was one of the fortunate ones.
However, instead of being willing to help shoulder the burden of the downturn, government union bosses are lighting their collective manes on fire.
A university union boss called the proposed haircut “nothing short of disgusting.” During the pandemic, a group of union bosses even threatened general strikes.
Soon, Canadians will have to grapple with an important question: how are we going to pay back the mountain of government debt? The answer can’t be to make the private sector bear the entire burden.
We need politicians and bureaucrats to share in the difficult times and take a cut.
Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation