Tense day for civil service as departments begin post-budget job cuts

OTTAWA – It was a tense day for the civil service Wednesday as the axe began to fall on jobs following last week’s federal budget.

Everything from commerce to culture was affected as departments began to roll out cost-cutting plans mandated by the Conservative government’s first real majority budget.

The Opposition decried the cuts as evidence of Tory ideology run amok while the government insisted the layoffs were reasonable to prune the civil service.

The Defence Department was among the first to report losses, with the Union of National Defence Employees saying around 1,100 civilian positions are being eliminated.

Cuts were also announced at regional economic development agencies, the National Film Board and the CBC.

The cuts follow the decision by the Conservatives to cut annual spending by $5.2 billion over the next three years, in part by eliminating 19,200 positions across the country.

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At Defence, jobs are being slashed everywhere from research and development to food services, though the government has committed to keeping the regular and reserve fighting force intact.

“If the government is not going to cut the size of the military or close any bases, who is going to do all the work?” asked union president John MacLennan.

He said the answer is soldiers.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay defended the cuts as natural fallout from the end of the mission in Afghanistan.

“We are now looking at the reorientation of our staff and our other resources,” he said in the House of Commons.

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The union representing professional employees said 400 of its members were notified their positions are being targeted, which includes some positions at Defence.

A further 1,200 notices will be sent in the coming days.

“Conservatives can say whatever they want but Canadians are going to lose the services they need,” said New Democrat MP Paul Dewar.

The budget said the majority of cuts would come in the Ottawa-area but among jobs lost across the country are positions at regional economic agencies, including commerce officers hired to help get start-up companies off the ground.

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It’s small communities that will hurt the most, said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

“A loss of five jobs in Charlottetown can be much bigger than 15 in a big centre,” he said.

At the CBC, President Hubert Lacroix announced a swath of changes, including 650 layoffs and an abrupt halt to several of the broadcaster’s plans for expansion in order to slice 10 per cent of its budget.

“Clearly, in light of this reduction, we won’t be able to move as far or as fast on certain elements of our 2015 plan as we might have liked,” Lacroix said in a statement.

The Liberals accused the Tories of playing partisan with the public broadcaster.

“The attack on the CBC began well before this budget was tabled,” said Liberal heritage critic Scott Simms.

“Conservative members have consistently called for the defunding of the CBC, and heeding these calls, this government is taking a hatchet to Canada’s national broadcaster and robbing Canadians of its services.”

At the National Film Board, 73 positions are being cut as the agency scales back production funding and closes viewing posts in Toronto and Montreal.

A spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said the job losses and program changes represent “balanced and moderate” savings.

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“We agree with Canadians that leaner, more affordable and more effective government is good for taxpayers,” Sean Osmar said in an email.

But the job-loss numbers don’t give the whole picture, some unions said.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says 9,700 positions have already been lost as a result of a budget freeze in 2010 and there are still 6,300 jobs that will be cut as a result of the 2007-2010 spending reviews.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s office would not confirm that number.

Some workers could be reassigned, while others will be given the option of leaving early; about 7,000 of the job cuts reported in the budget will be due to attrition, the government said.

But PSAC says that number is meaningless.

“How does a government know how many people are actually going to retire?,” said Patty Ducharme, PSAC’s national executive vice-president.

Ducharme said there is no uniform approach to communicating the cuts to employees, creating a great deal of anxiety.

“People are feeling that they don’t want to put their heads up, that they’re afraid to speak out about what’s going in their departments and agencies,” she said.

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“These are people who are responsible for their families, who contribute to the economy, who deliver important services to Canadians every day and they’re afraid on the job.” 

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