A quick overlook at the 2018 federal budget

March 05, 2018

Budget _analysis

As with every budget, there’s a lot to review. We are encouraged to see that the government continues to make investments in data, which empowers our leaders to make better decisions – to craft policies based on evidence – to the benefit of all Canadians. The government can certainly be applauded for putting forward a number of policies that will empower women in the workforce and move us towards a more egalitarian society. What is most noteworthy about this budget, from our perspective, is the government’s proposals to stabilize the Phoenix pay system and ultimately ditch it altogether. 

Here are the five main issues that this article with touch on:

Phoenix

We have been asking this government to fix Phoenix for the past two years. It finally seems that our leaders are taking our advice on eliminating Phoenix while providing additional pay staff to support us in the meantime. 

Announcing the removal of Phoenix will certainly help our members restore their confidence in the government. But it will take time. Last week, the Ottawa Citizen reported that a new system could take the better part of a decade to come online. We simply can’t wait that long; the government cannot continue to put our members in precarious financial situations. Alongside our counterparts from other unions, we have been and will continue to fiercely advocate for an expedited, focused, transparent and collaborative action plan.

For the time being, however, we are stuck with Phoenix. 

“While this government is trying to clean up its mess, we will continue to demand that our members get paid the right amount for the time they have worked,” said CAPE President Greg Phillips. “We also can’t ignore the financial, mental and emotional toll that the Phoenix fiasco has had on our members; our members impacted by pay problems need to be made whole in every respect.”

Mr. Morneau’s ambitious and collaborative plan to address Phoenix is welcome, but we desperately wish that Treasury Board would demonstrate the same ambition and collaborative spirit. Our experience with the employer thus far is at odds with the tone and sentiments expressed in this budget; Treasury Board keeps refusing to assume responsibility for unfair labour practices and is employing every legal argument to dodge accountability.

“Mr. Morneau’s budget states that the government intends to work with unions to ‘address numerous grievances and legal actions,” said Phillips. “We hope that this signals a change in the government’s inclination – to work with us towards solutions, towards righting wrongs, instead of cancelling meetings two days before the scheduled date.”

“To Mr. Morneau and Mr. Bryson, I ask: why don’t you meet with us and decide on a joint response to the problems that hardworking taxpayers, members are faced with? The men and women that you rely and depend on to continue serving Canadians also rely and depend on you to fix it.”

Official Languages

This year’s budget announced $400 million to support a host of programs aimed at strengthening our nation’s linguistic duality. None of these additional dollars, however, will be allocated to the Translation Bureau, whose mandate includes preserving Canadians’ right to communicate with, and be served by, Parliament in their preferred official language. 

The Translation Bureau has been languishing over the years, in part due to inadequate staffing levels. CAPE has long voiced its concern that the government has not empowered the Bureau to live up to the translation demands of the public service. We are also concerned that, without the appropriate funding, the Bureau isn’t preparing a new generation of professional translators as it loses the expertise of its seasoned professionals. CAPE would have urged the government to allocate more funds to the Translation Bureau. 

“The excessive overtime that the translators are faced with is detrimental to their mental health” said Phillips.  “Additional funds would help alleviate some of these challenges.”

The 2017 budget committed $7.5 million per year for fiscal years 2017-2018 through to 2021-22. At the time, CAPE regarded this as a step in the right direction, but called for further investment in the Translation Bureau to meet its requirements. Last year’s investment has done little to address the Bureau’s staffing needs.

The Translation Bureau has an important and unique role in safeguarding our nation’s linguistic duality. We certainly wish the government would have taken this opportunity to strengthen the Bureau’s role within the public service and invest in tomorrow’s translation professionals.

Continued focus on evidence-based decision-making

Certainly, this is a government that has embraced science and data. In 2016, Statistic Canada oversaw a tremendously successful census which boasted the highest response in history to the long-form questionnaire and set a world record for internet response rate. 

Having said that, the government is investing $41 million over five years towards renewing and modernizing Statistics Canada, with $4.4 million ongoing. The budget also provides $767 million over ten years to Statistics Canada to conduct the 2021 census of population. There is also $6.7 million over five years “to create a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics” which will “work to address gaps in the availability of disaggregated data on gender, race and other intersecting identities to enrich our understanding of social, economic, financial and environmental issues.”

“Many of our members work to guide and inform policymaking; having access to robust data helps them provide informed and evidence-based advice to our nation’s decisionmakers,” explained Phillips. “The work conducted by our members at Statistics Canada is indispensable to policymakers, but it also helps inform the work and decisions of business owners, academics and investors.”

An important stance against harassment

Finally, the 2018 budget also makes important investments to support victims of harassment and gender-based violence. The government wants to create a Centre of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellness within the public service, which would help public servants dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. The government also wants to amend the Canada Labour Code “to provide five days of paid leave to workers in federally regulated jurisdictions who are victims of family violence.” The budget allocates $34.9 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, with $7.4 million per year ongoing, to support Bill C-65, tabled last November. The bill, which is currently being fast-tracked through committee, proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to “strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in the work place.”

While CAPE fully supports the introduction of comprehensive legislation to address the problem of harassment in the both parliamentary and other federal workplaces, it is concerned that Bill C-65 as drafted does not go far enough and leaves too many important details to be determined by regulations.

Phillips highlighted three areas of concern with Bill C-65: the failure of the legislation to include a definition of harassment, the failure of the legislation to guarantee that employees will have access to independent and impartial investigations for harassment complaints, and the failure of the legislation to provide for redress for victims of harassment.

CAPE suggests that the legislation should be amended now to insert a broad and purposive definition of harassment that will offer the widest protection possible to employees.  

“We see Bill C-65 as a very positive step towards addressing the problem of harassment in federal workplaces” said Phillips, adding that the government ought to consider improving the bill's effectiveness. This could be done by including a definition of harassment, a guarantee of independent and impartial investigation, and provision for redress for victims, he said.

“All three of these additions will encourage more victims to come forward and make legislation more effective at eradication harassment and provide remedies to its victims.”

Gender Equality

Certainly, this budget placed particular emphasis on gender equality. A number of policy proposals have been put forward to achieve greater pay equity and facilitate, empower and encourage women participation in the workforce. 

The government is proposing a pay equity regime that would cover businesses and organizations in the federally regulated sector. The regime would include “strong oversight and enforcement” to ensure that women receive equal pay for work of equal value. The Liberals say they will table the pay equity regime bill this fall. 

“Women make up 55% of the public service, but their work remains all too often undervalued,” remarked Phillips. “We welcome the government’s push towards proactive pay equity in the federally regulated sector, both because it’s the right thing to do and also because we recognize that the federal sector can often set the bar for all other sectors in Canada.”

The government also proposed changes to parental leave, which aim to encourage parents to share parental duties. Parents could benefit from five additional weeks of leave if they choose to share parental leave.  

“This policy has been very successful in Quebec, where 4 out of 5 fathers now take parental leave during their child’s first year following the child’s birth or adoption,” explained Phillips. “We hope that this policy will work to reduce discrimination and unfair hiring practices by employers.”

The budget, however, missed a key opportunity to put additional resources towards childcare, except for providing better childcare options for parliamentarians.

For more information on the 2018 budget and how it may impact you as a public service employee, check out our budget summary.