Government unveils budget, stays mum on Phoenix

March 22, 2017

Budget 2016 (1)

Ottawa, March 22, 2017 - The government unveiled its 2017 budget earlier today, promising to create jobs and strengthen the middle class. The budget proposes modest investments in public services and policies aimed at closing the gender pay gap. What’s missing from the budget, however, is any mention of the Phoenix pay problems plaguing Canada’s public service employees.

“We’re encouraged that the government is looking at investing in key areas of the public service to strengthen linguistic duality in the public service, to gather data that will enhance evidence-based decision-making and develop policies and programs that will improve the everyday lives of Canadians,” said CAPE President Emmanuelle Tremblay.

“We are disappointed, however, that the government didn’t take advantage of the 2017 budget to propose aggressive action on the Phoenix pay problems that have been wreaking havoc on the lives of our members.”

CAPE made a very public plea on February 24, alongside PSAC and PIPSC, calling on the government to create a $75 million contingency fund aimed at resolving the Phoenix issues. During the press conference, heads of the largest public-sector labour unions asked the government to increase staff to assist members with pay issues and focus on training to build up expertise in the public service.

In the budget, the government affirmed Canadians’ right to “communicate with, and be served by, Parliament in their preferred official language” which ensures full participation in the parliamentary process. To this end, the government has proposed investing $7.5 million per year ongoing, starting in 2017-18. A Finance Canada source confirmed that these funds would be directed to Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department responsible for the Translation Bureau.

“We are hopeful that this reinvestment will serve to stop the bleeding at the Translation Bureau, ensure a reasonable staffing level of professional TRs and allow the bureau as a whole to truly live up to its mandate,” said Tremblay.

It's a step in the right direction, but the government will need to invest further in the Translation Bureau to meet its requirements.

Ominously, the budget also proposes a “comprehensive review of at least three federal departments” with the goal of eliminating “poorly targeted and inefficient programs, wasteful spending and ineffective and obsolete government activities.” No word on which departments will be subject to this review; the government is sitting on that information until the budget’s passage. This is a  worrisome signal that more cuts are to come, when we know that our members are already asked to do more with less.

On the other hand, the government is also looking to invest in data; $39.9 million will go to Statistics Canada in order to develop a new Housing Statistics Framework aimed at addressing data gaps. The government has also proposed creating a “Canadian Centre on Transportation Data, and an open data portal, to serve as authoritative sources of multi-modal transportation data and performance measures.” Statistics Canada will be a partner in this initiative. The government also wants to conduct surveys on the impact of digital technology in Canada; it is allocating $5 million over five years for Statistics Canada and private-sector led surveys.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also features prominently in the budget. The government is putting $73.5 million towards the creation of a new Canadian Centre for Climate Services. This centre would be administered by ECCC with the aim of improving access to climate science and regional climate resilience centres. The government is investing a further $70.5 million towards protecting freshwater, including Canada’s great lakes. There’s also $11.4 million towards the accelerated replacement of coal-generated electricity by 2030.

Still on the climate change front, the government is investing $47 million over five years to “develop and implement a national action plan to respond to the broad range of health risks caused by climate change”. These funds would be directed to Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. In order to address greenhouse gasses from Canada’s transportation sector, the government is investing $56.9 million over four years, starting in 2018-19. Transport Canada will lead efforts to develop greenhouse gas regulations in the marine, rail, aviation and vehicle sectors. A further $17.2 million will be split between Environment and Climate Change Canada and Transport Canada “to develop and implement heavy-duty vehicle retrofit and off-road regulations, as well as a clean fuel standard.”

For their part, Employment and Social Development Canada will receive $12.1 million towards developing modern approaches to service delivery. Employment Insurance is this initiative’s first target, but it would also include Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. The government wants to ensure that Canadians can receive services in a timely manner via easy-to-use options.

Finally, the government had dedicated part of their budget to the first-ever Gender Statement.

“[It’s] an assessment that ensures all budget measures—not just those aimed specifically at women—help us advance the goals of fairness, stronger workforce participation, and gender equality,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

To this end, the government has put forward several proposals aimed at closing the gender pay gap. Interestingly, the budget proposes modernizing the Canadian Labour Code to give federally-regulated employees the “right to request flexible work arrangements, including flexible start and finish times and the ability to work from home”. Since our members’ work conditions are set by their collective agreements, this wouldn’t necessarily apply to our members. It’s possible, however, that this initiative signals more openness on the issue of flexible work hours and telework on the part of the government. In any case, it provides us with more leverage when we pursue these same rights for our members in the future.

Noticeable in the budget, however, is that the Liberals have slated their programming priorities in later years (read: pre-election time). One could interpret this as a stronger commitment to their re-election rather than a true commitment to strong public services.

CAPE members are public servants whose work informs sound policymaking and assures the equal status of both official languages in government affairs. These 13,000 members include, among others, economists, statisticians, social science employees, translators, interpreters, terminologists, analysts and research assistants.