An absolutely spectacular example of innumeracy today courtesy of PSAC. VOCM reports:
The Public Service Alliance of Canada says it will continue to push for more federal government jobs for this province as the next federal election approaches. Local spokesman Larry Welsh says while they thought Stephen Harper was going to do something about this issue, he's failed to deal with the matter. Welsh says they had a commitment from Harper that there would be an equal sharing of federal government jobs based on population across the country. Welsh says that isn't happening in this province and the prime minister told PSAC he would work towards rectifying the problem.Assume that that is, in fact, what Harper said.[Emphasis added.]
"There is an over-concentration of certain federal government services in some areas of the country and an effort must be made to ensure that there is a a fair distribution of the federal government presence across the country."But people believe what they want to believe. Harper doesn't say that Newfoundland and Labrador is short-changed when it comes to federal civil service jobs. He doesn't mention the "areas" by name where he thinks there is an "over-concentration".
Which is good for Larry Walsh, because, as the Harris Centre at Memorial University, in its final attempt to whip up hysteria on this issue, concluded:
As shown in the figure, throughout the 1980s, about 2.4% of federal employment was located in the province. That share rose to slightly more than 2.5% during the early 1990s; and this share of federal employment was larger than Newfoundland and Labrador’s share of Canada’s population. [...] By 2003, 1.8% of federal government employment was in Newfoundland and Labrador, which was little different from the province’s share of the national population at the time, about 1.65%. [pp. 15-16]But again: people believe what they want to believe.
The share of federal government employment in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia is disproportionately lower than their respective shares of the national population. [...]
The remaining provinces, namely, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba, all have a greater share than they do of the national population. [p. 17]
Welsh wants to believe that his union "had a commitment from Harper that there would be an equal sharing of federal government jobs based on population across the country."
It isn't true, but humour him, and assume that it is both what Harper promised, and what Welsh and PSAC want.
The mathematically-necessary implications of this are clear.
First, the province's percentage share of the federal civil service would have to go down.
Second, that share would have to continue going down, as the provincial population continues to decline, both in absolute population, and as a share of the national population. Indeed, even if absolute population decline were to come to a complete halt overnight, the provincial population share would continue to decline as other, and more populous provinces continue to grow. According to Welsh, this would, of necessity, result in further civil service reductions.
Third, assuming no change in the overall size of the federal civil service, something in the neighbourhood of 575 federal jobs in the province would have to be re-allocated to other provinces in order to mathematically meet Welsh's understanding that Harper promised "an equal sharing of federal government jobs based on population across the country".
Or, on the reciprocal, if NL were to experience no absolute reduction in the number of federal civil service jobs in the province, but yet have "an equal sharing... based on population", the federal civil service would have to be increased in size by 10% or more. If the federal civil service presence in the province, the civil-servant inflation at the national level would, accordingly, have to be even higher.
As the Harris Centre concluded, and as any rational examination of the numbers can tell any numerate person, Newfoundland and Labrador is one of six provinces with a disproportionately large federal civil service presence.
St. John's ranks fourth-largest among the 25 major metropolitan areas for its per-capita — that means "based on population" — federal civil service presence.
You don't hear Ray Dillon or Andy Wells talking about that.
By selecting the outlying cases as its baseline year of comparision, by focusing on rates of change rather than share, and by looking at absolute share difference rather than proportional share difference, the Harris Centre engaged in what Darrell Huff, in his classic phrase, called "How to Lie with Statistics". It did a gross disservice to public discourse, one which the provincial government has cynically exploited.
Welsh's comments are a perfect example of how, as a result, too many people have become too convinced that somehow the province is short-changed in its share of federal spending.
Though you would never know it, reading some of the coverage of the issue, it is not.
And by playing into some myth of entitlement, that there is some level of federal civil service presence that is "deserving", that some provinces get "more than they deserve", and others less, the Harris Centre not only managed to further that gross disservice to public discourse, it entrenched a public myth about which category, more- or less-deserving, the province falls into.
And by willingly suspending disbelief, Welsh and PSAC have sharpened the very blade that is already being held in reserve by the Harper government.
That government, Loyola Hearn included, know full well the statistical truth about the federal civil service presence; the truth presented above, and the truth revealed in a careful, non-hysterical reading of the Harris Centre report, and especially of the raw statistics. Loyola has already, if obliquely, indicated this, saying, since becoming a federal cabinet minister, that the "federal presence" issue he once championed is "overblown".
"Overblown", indeed! Newfoundland and Labrador is one of six provinces with an "over-concentration" of federal civil service presence, as measured against its share of the Canadian population.
By believing what he wants to believe, Welsh has made it that much easier for the federal government to cut his membership's jobs or transfer them to other provinces. There is no other way for Harper to satisfy Welsh, and keep his supposed "commitment" to ensure "an equal sharing of federal government jobs based on population across the country."