The Cuts Behind the Curtain

Today, the CCPA released a study I authored titled: The Cuts Behind the Curtain: How federal cutbacks will slash services and increase unemployment.  The report examines all three waves of federal government cutbacks starting with the 2007-2010 strategic reviews, but also projecting the effects from the 2010 personnel budget freeze and the 2011 Strategic and Operating Review.

One of my reasons for looking at this issue was to gain a baseline of what had already been cut and what future waves might bring.  It is unfortunate that the federal government has not been more transparent on these issues as there should be a real debate about whether the services being cut are the right ones.

The main finding of the report is this: no matter how you slice it, the federal government will eliminate between 60,000 and 68,000 full time jobs by 2014-15.  Depending on how the cuts are distributed, Ottawa and Gatineau could lose upwards of 22,000 full time positions with Atlantic Canada also seeing disproportionate cuts.  The federal government has recently been extolling its jobs strategy, but its main policy measure in last year’s budget will actually increase unemployment.  In the case of Ottawa/Gatineau and Atlantic Canada, that increase could be 3% points.

The other important revelation of this report is about which services have been cut so far.  I’d wager that any job cuts that are being announced today are actually the result of the first wave, that is the 2007-2010 strategic reviews.  The programs that were disproportionately cut may provide an indication of where future cuts might also fall.  In the first wave of cuts, the following areas were disproportionately affected:

  • Aboriginal programs: This stretches across four departments, but includes housing at CMHC, primary health care on reserves, Aboriginal job training and support for aboriginal culture.
  • Low Income Canadians: while benefit levels won’t be affected, good luck if you have a problem.  EI staff and Revenue Canada staff that answer phones and help low-income Canadians get the benefits they qualify for have been disproportionately affected.
  • Government inspectors: both food safety inspectors and labour inspectors have seen disproportionate cuts.

Despite these cuts, other areas have either maintained most of their staff or have expanded:

  • National Security Establishment: departments like border security, CSIS and corrections Canada will likely either maintain or increase their numbers
  • Military personnel and RCMP officers have continued to expand even though their civilian sections have seen cuts.

Without some transparency on what has already been cut and what is still coming, Canadians are ill-equipped to determine whether the cuts are desirable or appropriate.  I think its unlikely that Canadians would decide to cut on-reserve health care so that prisons can be expanded, but that’s exactly what is happening.

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