Federal cuts could dampen student job hopes: report

The Atlantic region may bear the brunt of job cuts

Christine Saulnier (far right) and three union leaders present a report that warns the federal government that job cuts in the Atlantic region could have devastating effects on small communities. Photo: Peter Marrack

An Ottawa-based think tank presented a report Tuesday morning concluding that Atlantic Canada will be most affected by ongoing federal job cuts.

According to the report, the federal government will cut 4,400 public service jobs (of a total of 28,254) in the Atlantic region by 2015 in an effort to reduce national debt. Since the beginning of summer, 1,057 people had already lost their jobs.

Christine Saulnier, the director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Nova Scotia, said the federal government is responsible for providing public services that meet the demands of communities, and in that regard, it is failing.

“Great strides have been made to have the public service represent the people,” said Saulnier. “We’re afraid of losing this equity with more cuts.”

Saulnier was joined at the news conference by three union leaders representing different public service departments.

Gary Corbett, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, gave a discouraging forecast for university students hoping to work in public service.

“Security has gone out the window,” said Corbett. “We’re not even sure what kind of mechanism the public service will play in the future, especially when jobs are being contracted out to private companies.”

Corbett did not say how students enrolled in university could adapt to this shifting public service market.

The report

For smaller communities such as Corner Brook, Charlottetown and Sydney, job cuts will result in the closure of entire offices, such as Veterans Affairs’ regional centres that serve veterans through one-on-one consultation.

Yvan Thauvette, the president of the Union of Veterans Employees, cited one recent incident in Atlantic Canada where a 92-year-old veteran waited in line for 40 minutes at one of these offices, only to be turned away by an officer who said she was not permitted to assist him.

Gary Corbett said public service jobs have been “vilified” so fewer students aspire to work in that market. Photo: Peter Marrack

Thauvette said a total of nine district offices will be shut down and veterans must either go online or call a 1-800 number to receive assistance – which many are incapable of doing.

“They’ve gone from the front lines to the back of the line,” Thauvette said. “Lest we forget means nothing anymore.”

According to the report, 43 per cent of the cuts will be in Ottawa and 12 per cent will be in the Atlantic region. Saulnier said these numbers are disproportionate to both the size of the region and its consumption of public services.

The report outlines a number of ways the cuts will affect the Atlantic region:

  • Unemployment is already high and 12% of the federal government workforce is located in the Atlantic region.
  • Many services, such as environmental teams that respond to oil spills, will no longer be based locally but outside of the region – which will likely hinder the quality of service.
  • With hundreds of job cuts and no renewal of these positions, an entire generation might be unable to enter into public service jobs.
  • Workers at departments where there have been cuts face heavier workloads and have already reported increased stress levels.
  • Small communities rely on income from public service to drive local economy. The average federal worker earns near $70,000 per year.

Recommendations

Saulnier said the report’s primary recommendation is to end job cuts until the federal government can obtain more information about short- and long-term effects.

However, she acknowledged the prospects of this are unlikely. Saulnier said a more realistic recommendation involves more communication between the federal government and the departments undergoing cuts – in order to determine the demand for services.

Saulnier said job cuts have been implemented blindly, paying little attention to the people who actually use these services.

She added that of the 30 managing directors contacted for information used in the report, only 11 responded, with just four agreeing to comment.

Jeannie Baldwin, the regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, put it bluntly: “Good governance depends on transparency and this government is not good at transparency.”

 

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