The Yukon 300

Leonidas and his band of 300 Spartan warriors famously fought to the death at the pass of Thermopylae defending Greek civilization against the Persian tyrant Xerxes and his massive army. 

Leonidas and his band of 300 Spartan warriors famously fought to the death at the pass of Thermopylae defending Greek civilization against the Persian tyrant Xerxes and his massive army.

If you didn’t learn about it in Western Civilization 12 at F.H. Collins, then there was the campy film “300” a few years ago in which Leonidas and the boys fought the Persians in black speedo briefs and flexed their muscles a lot.

The Yukon now has its own “300.” I’m talking about the 300 new hires, net of attrition, last year at the Yukon government. Total headcount went up to 5,379 as of March 31, a six per cent rise on the previous year.

You probably didn’t know a new “300” had been hired, probably because they don’t parade around en masse in speedos and listen to inspirational speeches by the premier.

Even if invisible, however, this is a lot of new hires. If YTG headcount keeps growing at six per cent a year, then the entire population will work there in 31 years.

The Yukon Party keeps telling us they are the party of private sector growth and accusing the NDP of being the party of big government. If the Yukon Party hires like this, what do they think an NDP premier would do? Start drafting people from the private sector for compulsory government jobs?

Yukon government figures have some other remarkable details that show its workforce is quite different from the Yukon population overall. First, 64 per cent of YTG employees are women versus 49 per cent of the overall population. And only 12 per cent of YTG staff are under 30 years old, while about 23 per cent of working age Yukoners fall into that category (assuming working age is 18 to 65 years). Almost a third of YTG workers are in their 50s, although relatively few are older since the average retirement age is 59.2 years.

We all know government is big in the Yukon. But the YTG figures are eye-opening. And they don’t even include the approximately 2,000 other government jobs at federal, First Nations and municipal agencies. Nor does the figure of 5,379 YTG employees include hundreds, perhaps thousands, of jobs at organizations fully or partly funded by the territorial government.

It is interesting to think about the government hiring 300 new people last year. I couldn’t find a figure for the average cost of a government employee on the government website, so let’s assume it is $100,000 including overtime, benefits and pension. The Yukon 300 would cost about $30 million per year.

To put that in perspective, with that much money you could build a new F.H. Collins every 12 to 18 months or put an extra teacher in half the classrooms in the Yukon.

Some ambitious politician could promise to cut everyone’s income taxes in half.

A populist candidate might even promise to eliminate all taxes on tobacco and alcohol and abolish the $10 million in mark-up the liquor corporation puts on our booze. That last idea would still leave $5 million leftover to zero out all motor vehicle fees.

An Alaskan candidate might even suggest just sending cheques for $1,000 to every Yukoner.

As amusing as these ideas are, the reality is that our Yukon Party government decided the best thing to do was to hire 300 people and spread them out across the departments.

This must get any actual conservatives still in the Yukon Party really mad.

It would be interesting to know what the Yukon 300 are actually doing in the public service. Unlike ancient Sparta, we rely on the federal government to defend our mountain passes. There is a scene in 300 where Leonidas cries out to his soldiers, “Spartans, what is your profession?” Blood-thirsty battle cries and frenzied spear-waving are the answer.

Imagine if the premier gathered the Yukon 300 and cried out “Yukoners, what is your profession?”

Perhaps they would shout out in unison, “Policy analysis!”

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow him on Twitter @hallidaykeith