Mutualism is a term that describes a relationship where two organisms have a close, mutually beneficial relationship.
One well-known example in the animal world would be the rhinoceros and oxpecker. The latter being the type of bird often captured in photos perched on a rhino’s back. The bird benefits as a rhino’s hide is often full of ticks and they make for tasty treats. The rhino benefits as it gets free health care courtesy of the bird.
The relationship between taxpayers and governments should be similar. A healthy large body of taxpayers (a rhino) should pay reasonable tax rates (ticks) to the government in exchange for services from government employees (oxpeckers).
The problem in Saskatchewan is that despite positive reforms by the Wall government to downsize the provincial bureaucracy, the rhino is still overwhelmed with oxpeckers on its back in this province. The ticks have been eaten up and the oxpeckers are slowing down the host and looking for more.
In other words, Saskatchewan has too many government employees and taxpayers are paying higher taxes as a result.
The latest Statistics Canada figures show that as of March 2014, approximately 20.7 per cent of people working in Canada are employed by the government in one form or another. Yet, in Saskatchewan the number is noticeably higher; 24.7 per cent.
In fact, both figures are up from 15 years ago – when 19.1 per cent of Canadians worked for the government and ‘only’ 23.5 per cent of Saskatchewan workers received a government pay cheque.
If you drill down on the numbers even further and look at just those employed by the provincial government and provincial institutions (schools, hospitals, universities, but not including crown corporations) you’ll find that 9.33 per cent of all Saskatchewanians work for such bodies; 37.2 per cent higher than the national average.
By comparison, 6.34 per cent of British Columbians and 5.92 per cent of Albertans work for the provincial government and provincial institutions.
It should be pointed out that the Wall government has been doing a good job of reducing the number of employees working in government ministries. The province’s 2013 budget speech noted:
“We are on track to achieve our four-year target of reducing the public service workforce by 15 per cent – more than 1,900 positions — including 600 positions in 2013-14.”
The problem seems to be with school boards, universities and health regions. As the Wall government provides funding to each of them annually, the Premier should tell them “we’ve made hard decisions to reduce redundant positions, now it’s time for you to do the same.”
Thankfully, there’s a simple and pain-free way for universities, school boards and health regions to deal with the situation; retirements. Over the coming decade, a massive wave of retirements are set to take place in Saskatchewan as the baby boomers start to retire. As those employed in not-so-essential positions retire, don’t rehire for the positions.
Reducing the number of paper-pushers would allow the government to either reduce taxes or direct more money towards services people care about; fixing roads, repairing bridges and front-line health care services to name a few.
One thing is for certain, somehow other provinces are delivering similar services and getting by with fewer oxpeckers. It’s time for Saskatchewan to follow suit.
Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation