Why thefreeze on hiring?

Government of Alberta has announced that it has suspended recruitment of new staff. Although the statement on the government’s website does not officially say it is linked to a growing budget deficit, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that the freeze is the result of the steadily worsening economic bottleneck.

There are two ways of looking at it.

One can certainly sympathize with Doug Knight, the head of the provincial union of public employees.

Mr Knight said in a statement: “The idea that a hiring freeze can be implemented without consequences is problematic: there is no doubt that this will increase workloads across the public service, will negatively affect employees’ health and most likely the timely delivery of programs and services.”

Then he went on to support his view by giving statistics on the mental health issues faced by public employees due to workplace stress.

He may well be right, to a certain extent.

But there is also the other side of the coin, which is that the public service, in most Canadian provinces, is delivered by an unduly inflated number of staff and the same goes for the federal government. In other words, both federal and provincial governments are more than generous in creating positions, and quite well-paying ones at that, to deliver the services that constituents expect of them.

In an ideal world, the global economic slowdown would be a great opportunity for a rationalizing the public sector workforce: A hiring freeze due to economic constraints should give the government a well justified reason to downsize and/or reorganize the roster of public servants to render more efficient service with reduced costs.

But to make use of such an opportunity, the government should be ready to radically alter the way it thinks about the economy.

Is our provincial government ready to do that?

One cannot be so sure.

With widespread speculation of neck-high mismanagement at the provincial finance ministry, increasing criticism of the way the economic problems are being handled and now a compulsory halt to recruitment because of lack of funds, the picture is definitely not good.

Premier Ed Stelmach would be well advised to remember that, in politics, to restore confidence once it has gone crumbling is a task as difficult as “next to impossible.”

There could well come a point whereby even rising oil and gas prices may not be enough to save his political future.

— Mustafa Eric