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Civil Service

The Civil Service is the body of permanent employees who serve the government of Saskatchewan as the executive branch; their ranks range from the Deputy Ministers down to the lowest clerks. They have traditionally numbered no more than 15,000 people throughout the province, and usually far fewer; at present, there are approximately 10,000 provincial civil servants. Since 1906, the Civil Service in Saskatchewan has also been known as the Public Service.

The Civil Service has not always received equal trust and support from its political superiors. For the period from 1905 through World War II, it was considered as simply a patronage-ridden group of supporters of the dominant Liberal Party. However, this image was completely reversed when T.C. Douglas became Premier in 1944: for the next twenty years, the Saskatchewan Civil Service was considered one of the most meritorious in all of Canada. But the days of the leadership of Ross Thatcher in the 1960s saw its reputation plummet again as his dominance forced good employees to leave. Premier Allan Blakeney revived the reputation in the 1970s by encouraging meritorious people to be recruited, but Premier Grant Devine lowered it again in the 1980s through whole scale dismissal of these same people. Since then, the overall reputation has been that of a competent body of employees.

Saskatchewan civil servants are usually expected to conduct themselves according to the Westminster model. They are expected to be hired on the basis of merit; leave policy-making to the politicians and simply implement what these decide; serve any government by offering objective advice in a non-partisan manner; remain anonymous and allow the Minister to deal with the public; and as a result, be hired for a career and thus provide continuity to the government and the citizens. However, this traditional model was probably never followed exactly and is certainly under attack nowadays as some civil servants are being urged to become innovative, policy-making problem-solvers.

The key concern is whether the employees are being hired on the basis of merit or because of their loyalty to a political party - patronage. There is nothing to say that an employee could not be hired for both reasons, but the stigma of a patronage appointment, no matter how meritorious the person is, usually leads to that person's dismissal if the government changes after an election; then the desired continuity is lost. Through all its ups-and-downs, the Saskatchewan Civil Service has been plagued by charges of patronage; the main mechanism to try and defeat patronage is the Public Service Commission.

In one area - industrial relations - the Civil Service of Saskatchewan has been a leader. Saskatchewan was the first province in Canada, and indeed the first government, to allow its employees to unionize. This occurred in 1944 at the first session of the new government of Premier Douglas: he believed that civil servants should have the same rights as employees in the private sector and should not be “second-class” citizens. As a result, in any given year about 80% of Saskatchewan civil servants are union members. Although the Legislature of Saskatchewan is located in Regina, less than half of the Civil Service is located there. Some of the reasons for the dispersal of civil servants across the province are the implementation of programs for specific citizens such as Aboriginals, or for areas such as highways; the inspection of situations where operations have been regulated, such as in Education or in commerce; and the need for research facilities and other institutions such as Hospitals and prisons.

Robert McLaren

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Further Reading

McLaren, R.I. 1998. The Saskatchewan Approach to Public Administration in Historical Perspective. Lewiston, NY: Mellen; Pitsula, J.M. and K.A. Rasmussen. 1990. Privatizing a Province. Vancouver: New Star.
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provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.