Canada’s largest public sector union says that federal government plans to start rolling back spending are being “rushed.”
Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said the union hasn’t been consulted on any proposed plans to cut spending across federal departments since the cuts were first advertised in the spring federal budget.
“The government needs to pause these cuts until it has conducted a whole-of-government review of staffing and service needs, with bargaining agents involved throughout the process,” he said in a media statement.
Aylward was reacting to newly appointed Treasury Board President Anita Anand asking her fellow cabinet ministers to dig deep to find budget savings starting this fall.
As first reported by the Globe and Mail, Anand wrote a letter to cabinet ministers giving them until Oct. 2 to come up with plans to find $15 billion in savings across the federal government. CBC has obtained a copy of the letter.
“Through this exercise, we are collectively working to refocus our existing and future spending. To ensure the efficient use of Canadians’ tax dollars, I hope that similar fiscal prudence will be applied when seeking new funding,” Anand wrote in the letter.
Aylward said that Oct. 2 deadline is a source of “concern.”
“These changes are being rushed,” he said in his statement. “As we said when the budget was released, you can’t cut $15 billion in public service budgets without cutting services to Canadians.”
The spring federal budget outlined plans to find $15.4 billion in savings over the next five years. They include cuts to consultation contracts to the tune of $7 billion and a three per cent reduction in spending for all federal departments. The government is also calling on federal Crown corporations to reduce their spending.
Government says plan is about ‘waste elimination’
In the days following July’s cabinet shuffle, Anand described her new role as one of ensuring the government is spending public funds wisely. She also hinted that cuts were on the horizon during an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.
“I am going to have to speak with my colleagues about the need for prudent spending and I’m looking forward to those conversations as well.” she told host David Cochrane.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) said the government does not expect any cuts to affect the services Canadians receive and the plan is aimed at “waste elimination.”
“We are finding savings in underutilized government spending, so that we can refocus those funds on programs that deliver critical services to Canadians,” the spokesperson said in a media statement.
“This is about smarter, not smaller, government. Such reviews are an essential part of responsible management. This is about ensuring that public servants and public funds are focused on the priorities that matter most.”
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC News that any planned cuts shouldn’t affect service delivery.
“I think there’s always abilities to look at your expenditures and reduce expenditures that could be extraneous,” Hajdu said. “For me, it will never be services that I would present as an option for debt reduction.”
But opposition politicians say they are skeptical about the plan.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he simply doesn’t believe the government will achieve the savings proposed in Anand’s letter.
“[Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau will never find savings because he is incompetent with money,” Poilievre told reporters Tuesday.
Poilievre also said that if he were to form government, he would implement a policy requiring all government agencies to find a dollar in savings for every dollar in proposed new spending — a key promise from his leadership campaign.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was skeptical of the claim that the cuts wouldn’t affect services, particularly when Canadians are being burdened with higher living costs due to inflation.
“We’ll be watching very closely to make sure this government doesn’t cut to make things more painful for Canadians,” he told reporters in Edmonton.