TORONTO -- About 2,400 Ontario public servants are taking voluntary buyouts, the Progressive Conservative government announced Thursday, saying the departures will help the province tackle a multibillion-dollar deficit.

The buyout program for members of the Ontario Public Service will bring an immediate cost of $190 million but will deliver annual savings of $215 million by 2021-22, said Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy.

"We feel we've done it in a very thoughtful way," he said. "In a way that, at the same time, protects those front line workers."

Civil servants were offered voluntary buyout packages last December, and those who opted for them will have until the end of the year to leave their roles.

Bethlenfalvy said more than 3,300 government workers applied for the program, but about 900 were turned down to protect the "institutional memory" of the public service.

"We can't hollow out that talent so we were very selective in terms of which roles and which jobs to select," he said, adding that protecting "safety and security" was an important factor in the decisions.

Bethlenfalvy said the program will help the government deal with an $11.7-billion deficit.

"Our clear objective has been to manage the overall size of the Ontario Public Service, which is a key element in our plan to restore sustainability to the province's finances," he said.

The province currently spends about $72 billion a year on compensation for the broader public sector, Bethlenfalvy said.

He added that the government would be monitoring the impact of the public service buyout program before potentially considering expanding it to other agencies.

"We want to take the learnings from this and work with our transfer partners in the broader public sector and see if elements work with their organizations," he said.

The province recently announced legislation to limit wage increases for broader public sector workers, including teachers and nurses. The bill would cap wage increases to an average of one per cent a year for three years.

NDP legislator Peter Tabuns said Thursday's government announcement was short on details about how the buyouts will impact services Ontarians depend on.

"These workers that he's talking about represent a broad range of classifications from people who do psychiatric assessments to scientists to child advocates," he said. "This is a government that tends to be penny-wise and pound foolish. It could be that the savings he announces today are very expensive for us tomorrow."