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Autumn leaves frame the Peace Tower in Ottawa on Oct. 18, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Autumn leaves frame the Peace Tower in Ottawa on Oct. 18, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

After a decade of growth, public-sector hiring flatlines Add to ...

The decade-long expansion of the federal public service ended last year and is expected to begin a downward trajectory as the government shaves its work force to meet deficit-reduction targets.

A new report of the Public Service Commission says 14.3-per-cent fewer people were hired as federal employees in 2010-11 than in the year before. The biggest decline was in the signing of full-time, permanent staff.

The halt in the growth of the federal work force comes after three years in which it had increased at a rate of about 4-per-cent annually – and at a time when cutbacks were being foreshadowed by a government eager to get itself out of a financial hole.

The decline in recruitment is a concern for Maria Barrados, the commission president, who noted that the number of federal employees under the age of 35 decreased for the first time in a decade in 2010-11 and that the number of people hired out of post-secondary institutions fell by 23.8 per cent.

“I think it’s very important that we maintain an infusion of new blood into the public service,” Ms. Barrados told an Ottawa news conference Tuesday. “We need that energy and we need those new ideas and that new experience.”

The government has asked all departments and agencies to come up with plans for cutting between 5 and 10 per cent of their budgets as it tries to bring down a multibillion-dollar deficit.

Ms. Barrados said Ottawa is better prepared for cuts today than it was during the program review of the 1990s when it was difficult to get a handle on the number of people who were being let go and what the impact of the layoffs would be.

But she also advised that the government should continue to take on employees even as it is tightening its belt. “If you stop hiring, like we did in the program review period,” she said, “you actually create a gap in your leadership.”

The report released Tuesday found that most federal hiring decisions last year were based on merit and that, overall, managers are doing a better job at setting out the requirements of a position and selecting the person who best meets them.

But there continues to be a small proportion of cases where the test of merit is not being met, Ms. Barrados said. And there are still too many cases in which merit is not demonstrated in staff files and departmental records.

The Public Service Commission is also concerned that more effort is needed to ensure that civil servants are carrying out their work in a way that is free of political influence.

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