The narrative within government is one of stability – people view their jobs as (generally) static, their organizations as slow-to-change, and their work lives generally similar from day-to-day and year-to-year. This stability, though, is merely an illusion.
In the 1990s, there was massive disruption in employment and departments. From 1993 to 1999 the public service payroll dropped by 45,000 people. Many people were hired through the early 2000s, but cuts came again in 2011 and onward as part of various strategic reviews and the Deficit Reduction Action Plan. Canada’s civil service has ranged from 0.05 percent of the population in post-WWI 1918 to 1.2 percent of the population in 1975. The proportion of public servants within the population has steadily declined for the past few decades, despite expanded programs like those of the Economic Action Plan of the late 2000s.
On a semi-regular basis, departments are consolidated or split apart – in 2003 I worked for the Registry of the Federal Court of Canada, which was merged with the Registry of the Tax Court of Canada to form the Courts Administration Service. This isn’t an unusual phenomenon – in 1993 Human Resources Development Canada was formed from several other departments, largely the Department of Employment and Immigration. In 2003 that mega-department was dissolved into Social Development Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. In 2006 Social Development Canada ceased to exist, because it was merged back into HRSDC. As of today, the department is known as Employment and Social Development Canada. With all these changes, it’s no wonder that the average Canadian has a hard time figuring out which department is responsible for any given program or initiative!
I don’t know whether the continued cuts and austerity will continue, or whether we will see another period of expansion and hiring. New departments like Shared Services Canada have been formed with the intent to standardize processes across the entire federal government – perhaps that will continue, or perhaps those responsibilities will be split up into regional organizations. It’s all speculation, but the reality is this: change is happening every day, and if you want to work in the federal government, it’s best to stop complaining about change, because change is what is happening around you every day (even if you don’t notice).
George Wenzel is a journeyman public servant. He’s worked in both legal and information technology roles, but his passion is leadership and management. He recently completed a two-year secondment to the National Managers’ Community as the Alberta Regional Coordinator and now works for Justice Canada. You can find him online at http://about.me/georgewenzel, http://www.govlife.ca, and on Twitter @georgewenzel.