More than 5,500 federal service employees were notified Wednesday that their jobs are on the line, while unions are accusing the government of making the wrong choices and rushing through the cuts.
More than 2,000 of the affected jobs are located in the Ottawa region; 775 are in the Prairies; 236 in the Atlantic region and in Quebec; 222 in British Columbia; and 11 in the North.
Some of the departments with a high number of PSAC members who were notified include:
- Canada Border Services Agency: 1,137
- Health Canada: 715
- Agriculture Canada: 689
- Public Health Agency of Canada: 483
- Canadian International Development Agency: 534
- Citizenship and Immigration: 339
- Canadian Heritage: 258
- Veterans Affairs: 261
- Environment: 137
John Gordon, PSAC president said the unions don’t know yet what the potential cuts will mean to services but he has no doubt front-line services to Canadians will be affected.
Gordon said that even though not all 5,561 of PSAC’s members may be laid off, just being notified that they could lose their job will cause workers to spend less and therefore contribute less to the economy.
But Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who led the operating review over the last year that resulted in the cuts contained in the March 29 budget, defended the government’s measures.
“We do try to be fair,” Clement said Wednesday. “We understand this is a difficult process for some people who are losing their employment, and at the end of the day it is still the right thing to do. But we have to be fair about it, and we certainly will adhere to the rules that are in place.
The federal government is aiming to eliminate 19,200 federal public service positions across the country, saving $5.2 billion annually, and employees are in the midst of learning whose jobs may be targeted. Once someone receives a notice that their job is affected, a process kicks in that could see the person moved to another a position within the department or to a different department within the government. Not everyone who receives a notice will lose employment.
PIPSC members include biologists, chemists, veterinarians, medical doctors, technology specialists, researchers, scientists and engineers. The union says they are key to protecting the safety and well-being of Canadians through their work in food and product testing and in environmental monitoring.
“With this second round of cuts, it’s clear where the government’s priorities lie — more industry self-regulation, fewer checks and balances to protect our food and our environment, and less science in the public interest,” said PIPSC president Gary Corbett.
The 1,500 PIPSC positions are within the following departments:
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency: 344
- Health Canada: 328
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: 153
- Environment Canada: 137
- Public Health Agency: 75
- Industry Canada: 219
- Natural Resources Canada: 156
- Canadian Space Agency: 23
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada: 40
- Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade: 53
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was asked about the cuts in her department, including those to the First Nations and Inuit health branch, at an event in Toronto where she announced cancer research funding.
“We are making some reductions in the health portfolio to ensure we are using Canadian taxpayers’ dollars wisely,” she said, “And again, my top priority is to ensure front-line health services [are] protected.”
The union representing federal food inspectors says up to 100 jobs may be lost at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency because of the federal budget cuts and that the reductions will have a direct impact on Canadians’ food safety.
“This decision will make the inspector shortage worse, not better. And because the government has failed to consult its own inspectors, they are cutting food safety blindly with little understanding of the consequences,” Bob Kingston, president of the agriculture union within the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said in a news release Wednesday. PSAC is the largest federal public sector union.
“Ensuring safe food for Canadian families is CFIA’s priority and these changes underscore that commitment,” the minister said.
But Kingston disagrees, saying the Ottawa employees have a “direct impact” on the safety of food bought by Canadians. Some of them, for example, are responsible for pre-approving the labels on meat products to ensure they aren’t fraudulent, he said.
“The federal government is turning its back on consumers with these cuts, taking food safety professionals out of the field. With no cop in the rearview mirror, food companies will have greater latitude to play fast and loose with our safety,” Kingston said.
The federal government hired 70 new inspectors in the wake of the listeriosis outbreak at a Maple Leaf meat plant in 2008 that was linked to at least 20 deaths.
The NDP criticized the government for the cuts to CFIA.
‘These cuts put Canadians’ lives at risk. We could have another listeriosis crisis on our hands. People could get sick, or worse, they could lose their lives.’—NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen
“These cuts are just another scary reminder that Conservatives care more about funding their backwards priorities rather than protecting Canadians’ safety and trust in the food industry,” said Malcolm Allen, the party’s agriculture critic.
“These cuts put Canadians’ lives at risk. We could have another listeriosis crisis on our hands. People could get sick, or worse, they could lose their lives,” he said.
Several federal departments were already under the axe before the March 29 budget of strategic reviews that have been taking place since 2007 and those job losses are still playing out now, making it difficult to sort out which cuts were happening already and which ones are new as of this spring because of the budget.