Ontario election reality check: “The leanest government in Canada”?

Question: Is Ontario the “leanest government” in Canada?

Analysis: Yeah, kind of.

In response to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s announcement Friday he plans to axe 100,000 public service jobs in the province, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne shot back that Ontario is “the leanest government in Canada.”

Sounds impressive. But is it true? Depends what you look at.

If it’s purely government expenditure per capita, then she’s about right: According to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, the Ontario government spent less per capita in 2011-2012 – roughly $7,600 – than any other government in Canada with the exception of Quebec, which spent $7,196.

Newfoundland, the highest-spending province per capita spends over $12,000 per capita.

But numbers from the Ontario Ministry of Finance tell a slightly different story, suggesting Ontario does in fact spend less per capita than any other province.

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Ontario did spend far more (approximately $122 billion in 2011) than any other province, but that makes sense: Its 13-million-person population is significantly larger than that of any other province.

Additional data from Statistics Canada shows Ontario has fewer general government workers and fewer health care workers, per capita. than any other province.

There are 56 Ontarians for every one person working in the government-employed health and social services sector. Newfoundland ranks the highest with 25 to one.

There are 152 Ontarians for every one working in the civil service. Alberta ranks second with 132 for every one. Prince Edward Island ranks last with 19.

Ontario ranks in the middle of the pack of people employed in crown companies; 342 people for every one employed in that sector. Alberta has the leanest crown agencies with 638 Albertans for every one working in the sector.

Interactive: Explore a province-by-province ratio of public-service workers to population, and see how Ontario stacks up.

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Ontario ranks in the middle of the pack again with the number of people working in the government-paid education sector with 90 Ontarians for every one. New Brunswick ranks at the top with 105 people for every one that works in education.

Does this rule out entirely the possibility of cutting Hudak’s 100,000 jobs? Not necessarily.

But it does dispel the myth of Ontario as bloated with civil servants, or the drunken sailor among provincial spenders.

– with files from Patrick Cain

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