N.W.T. gov't workforce grew 25% over past 5 years

N.W.T. government office buildings in downtown Yellowknife. Public service reports show government jobs have increased sharply in the past five years. (John Last/CBC - image credit)
N.W.T. government office buildings in downtown Yellowknife. Public service reports show government jobs have increased sharply in the past five years. (John Last/CBC - image credit)

Did the pandemic and the creation of the COVID Secretariat drive a major increase in the number of people working for the N.W.T. government?

The territory's Finance department says so, but the latest public service annual report from October contradicts that.

The secretariat, which at one point employed 175 people, was staffed mainly by existing government employees who were redeployed.

When the secretariat shut down in March of 2022, 48 employees and nine casuals were given new jobs elsewhere in the government.

But the growth of the territorial government's departments, boards, agencies and councils predates the pandemic.

What the numbers show

Over the past 20 years, staff numbers have generally grown year-over-year, aside from a few years which defied that trend.

However, the past five years have seen a 25 per cent increase in staff.

Government reports show that the territorial government's workforce grew from a staff of 5,091 in 2017-18 to 6,376 in 2021-22 — an increase of 1,285 people.

By comparison, during the same time period, the N.W.T.'s population grew by 984 people.

Those years include a jump of nearly 500 employees in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended less than a month after the pandemic began, and a further jump of 464 employees in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The Department of Finance, which has grown from 357 to 490 staff over the past five years, did not grant a request for an interview.

Instead, it said in a short emailed statement that there are "many different causes, including an overall shift in public services offered as the demographics of the territory change."

It pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent creation of the secretariat, as a major cause.

A second major cause, it said, is because "decreased use of temporary staffing measures resulted in more term and indeterminate staffing actions."

While the Department of Finance was among those with the largest increases in staff numbers, other areas of the government ballooned even more.

Jobs added over 5 years

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority grew from 1,282 to 1,804 staff members — an increase of 41 per cent. The Department of Health and Social Services grew from 167 to 279 staff members — an increase of 67 per cent.

Another major area of increase was the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council, which grew from 188 to 294 staff (a 56 per cent increase).

Only one government entity saw a staff decrease: the Department of Lands, which lost 13 positions.

Most jobs added in Yellowknife

Looking at the breakdown by community, the majority of jobs were added in Yellowknife, which also saw the lion's share of the territory's population growth.

However, most communities outside the capital saw either a status-quo or an increase in government jobs, including several communities in which the population fell.

5-year job growth by community

Behchokǫ̀ added 72 jobs, while its population decreased by 275 over those five years.

Norman Wells added 46 jobs, while its population fell by 41.

Other communities saw job growth outpace population growth: in Inuvik, for instance, the government added 116 jobs while the community added 111 people.

Only two communities saw staff decreases: Sambaa K'e, which lost one position; and Wrigley, which lost two.