Op-Ed by Colleen Coffey in response to the letter published in The Telegram on May 20 by Brian Jones

Let’s see if we got this right: there’s a global pandemic and various levels of government are urging the population to stay at home and whereas possible, to work from home in order to flatten the curve and protect our economy as much as possible. Thousands of public sector workers continue to show up to their workplace and some adapt and work from home as they are deemed essential service. Thousands more volunteer to transfer to a new position in order to deliver essential benefits created by the federal government.

Once again, public servants rose to the challenge and as irrefutable data demonstrated, they succeeded in delivering 5 million financial aid requests to Canadians in a very short time. It’s never been seen before whereas the federal government created a new program and delivered the benefits, all of this in a 3-week timeframe. In the event that public servants wouldn’t have been able to deliver the benefits in time, editors like Brian Jones would have screamed murder. However, public servants proved that they can work effectively, even from home, and deliver essential services to Canadians.

These public servants are working. They continue to deliver essential benefits and services to Canadians on a daily basis. 

They continue doing so even though they are still dealing with the plagued Phoenix Pay System. Public servants who had dealings with the Phoenix pay system continue to live the nightmare. Yet, they still show up to work because they are dedicated, and they see first-hand the value and impact of their service. Thankfully, the union was able to bargain certain protections for its members.

We are all in this together and this is not the time to divide the population. These attacks are just the beginning and we already see columnists starting to focus on questions like who is getting paid and who isn’t, and how much and should they be? These questions, of course, focus exclusively on public service workers. 

One could say there’s nothing new here. These are the usual suspects and they have been beating these drums for a long time. I would argue however that it has never been more important to call out their dishonest and failed ideas. For too long they have lobbied to shrink public services, gut regulations, and give the private sector greater control over the services we rely on – despite constantly being proven wrong.

Strong public services are the cornerstone of the response to COVID-19 globally and here at home. They are the frontline healthcare workers, our health authorities, city workers, provincial and federal providers of financial support, food inspectors, border officers, and the list goes on. 

We should be celebrating the strength of our public services and looking to make them even stronger given what this pandemic has taught us. What could possibly be achieved right now by cutting down public service workers and pitting Canadians against each other? Nothing.
Everyone knows we would be nowhere at the moment without our truck drivers, grocery store workers, couriers, and many others who enjoy fewer protections and benefits than their public sector counterparts. And there are the millions who suddenly find themselves unemployed. We need to focus on rebuilding an economy that guarantees basic benefits like sick days, a living wage and one that doesn’t require emergency measures just to get income supports for those who are left without work. 

Further, when it comes to economic recovery after the pandemic has passed, a strong public sector will be vitally important to a private sector restart.  

I am proud to represent dedicated public sector workers who continue to deliver essential public services to Canadians. Canadians have always been able to count on their public service and this pandemic proved that nothing will waver that commitment.

Colleen Coffey
Regional Executive Vice President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Atlantic Region