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Federal job cuts will seriously impact Atlantic Canada

The Chronicle Herald by Christine Saulnier 28 November 2012

According to the Public Service Commission, 1,057 federal government positions had been lost in the Atlantic region to the end of March 2012. In addition to these losses, a new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia report projects that at least 4,400 full-time equivalent jobs will be lost by the end of March 2015. Several hundred more jobs will be lost in federal Crown corporations. We can expect at least double the estimated number of jobs will actually be lost when we consider those lost in the private sector.

Examining the significance of the job losses in Atlantic Canada raises many red flags.

First, the region will face a higher portion of cuts than most other regions in Canada. Ottawa said the planned reduction would amount to about 4.8 per cent of the federal workforce nationwide. About 43 per cent of the cuts will likely occur in the National Capital Region; however, 22 per cent of the remaining cuts are projected to be in Atlantic Canada, representing a loss of 10 per cent of the region’s total federal government employment.

Prince Edward Island is estimated to be hardest hit, losing 16 per cent of its federal government jobs. Newfoundland and Labrador will lose nine per cent of all federal government jobs. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are each projected to lose 10 per cent.

Second, the cuts will have a deeper impact in the region. The substantial cuts to federal government jobs and related office closures will disproportionately reduce the pool of good jobs in the region, lower the employment income flowing back into local economies, and reduce access to public services — especially in rural communities. Relative to other areas of Canada, this region already faces higher unemployment, lower wages, more seasonal employment and the highest proportion of residents living in rural areas, with high rates of youth outmigration. The 4,400 jobs represent at least $300 million in salaries and wages that will be lost in the Atlantic region.

Third, these job cuts are strategic and affect the nature of the public service: who is employed, what they do, how they do it and where. Despite reassurances from the federal government that these cuts will involve “back-office” and will not impact public services, they will have a negative impact on service quality and accessibility.

Fourth, these cuts could affect the need for continuous renewal of the public service. While the government uses attrition to reassure us workers are “voluntarily” leaving their jobs, the impact of en-masse retirement will decrease institutional knowledge. The decrease in hiring will mean that a whole generation may be unable to enter the ranks of the public sector.

In addition, those who are left will be struggling to deal with the aftermath of the cuts. The predictable decrease in morale and increase in stress are already being reported. The use of more temporary workers and contract workers to fill resulting gaps may cost more and may only create more risk in the public service.

Fifth, these cuts could affect the government’s ability to make sound, evidence-based decisions. One measure of the quality of our public service is that it is reflective of the people it represents. The departments and positions facing higher rates of cuts raise concerns that progress for equity groups — women, aboriginal people, visible minorities, people with disabilities — will be lost. Increasing centralization reduces the ability of departments and agencies to understand and plan for the social and economic context of each Atlantic province and of rural communities. Cutting knowledge-based workers and professionals also affects the government’s ability to make informed decisions.

Reassurances by the government that these cuts will make the public service more effective and efficient, and improve our economy, lack evidence. The cuts in the 1990s, like the program reviews initiated since 2006, were designed to reduce federal government spending in order to reduce deficits. However, public services were not to blame for deficits, not in the 1990s and not now. Governments have choices about how to achieve fiscal goals. The 1990s cuts contributed to attaining a balanced budget quickly, but at serious social and economic cost. The 1990s cuts did a disservice to Canadians and by all accounts, this round of cuts is doing the same.

Christine Saulnier is Nova Scotia director of the CCPA. The full report can be accessed at www.policyalternatives.ca.