Governments come and go, public services shouldn’t

In her September 7 letter to the Chronicle Herald, Diane Finley says that Canadians “gave our government a strong mandate to complete our economic recovery and eliminate the deficit.” 

In truth a minority of Canadians voted for the Harper Conservatives. And the recent wave of cuts to federal departments and agencies tells us that Harper won a majority government by convincing working people to vote against their own best interests.

Ask anyone to give up their job in the name of deficit reduction and they will say, “No.”  Would you give up yours?

The plan to consolidate the services of 120 Service Canadaoffices into a mere 20 by 2014 is expected to eliminate upwards of 167 public sector jobs in the Atlanticand 600 jobs nationally.

Minister Finley says this doesn’t constitute a “mass” lay-off.  Maybe not, but in a place like CapeBreton, the cuts stand to be downright punishing. Just this month, Statistics Canada announced that unemployment numbers there are the highest in Nova Scotia.  Service Canada will close the Sydney EI processing unit and the Glace Baycall centre to the tune of around 100 jobs.

In Atlantic Canada the knife will fall principally on small towns and rural areas. Cuts like these translate into families packing up and leaving, classrooms shrinking, and local businesses closing meaning that it’s not just affected workers who are worried. Al Hawkins, the Mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor, NL, has been raising questions in the media. After voicing its own concerns, the Gander Chamber of Commerce received a warning from Phil McIntosh, Director of Investigations at the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying Canada advising that it must be registered as a lobby group to speak out on the matter. The EI processing centres in both communities are slated for closure.

What makes the situation worse is that the employer has been unforthcoming with details. Workers have heard only that there is the possibility of retraining or reassignment.  But to do what and to work where remains to be seen. 

Minister Finley tries to soften the blow by saying that “only back-office work will be consolidated.” Sounds to me like firing of all the kitchen staff while still expecting meals to be prepared.

Just as important as public sector jobs are the services these workers provide.  What Finley and the Conservatives call modernization is really a program of pseudo-efficiencies. These cuts stand toreduce the quality of public services as workers are called upon to provide the same service with less resources and fewer staff.

Governments come and go, but public services shouldn’t.

Jeannie Baldwin, Atlantic Regional Executive Vice-President, Public Service Allianceof Canada