Budget cuts: CAPE plays key role in informing Canadians

October 24, 2012

In April 2012, Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Kevin Page asked 91 federal government departments and agencies for details concerning the impact of the March 2012 budget cuts on their respective organizations.

One month following this initial contact with government managers, Mr. Page had received responses from only a few small departments accounting for barely one percent of the announced cuts. In the House of Commons, Treasury Board President Tony Clement claimed that he was unable to respond to the PBO’s requests because his hands were tied by public service unions and collective bargaining agreements. According to Mr. Clement, the government could not provide parliamentarians with information on the nature of the cuts because the Work Force Adjustment Directive (WFAD) required the government to first inform the affected employees and their unions. Mr. Clement added that parliamentarians might have to wait as long as a year, until the end of the spending reduction implementation process, to receive such information.

According to Mr. Page, by failing to detail the scope and impact of its budget cuts, the government is preventing parliamentarians from doing their work and from understanding the consequences of this budget on the economy and on the services which the government provides to Canadians.

Approached by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which was seeking information about the WFAD restrictions, CAPE expressed surprise at the government’s apparent use of collective agreements as a smokescreen in support of its refusal to disclose the details of its budget cuts. CAPE President Claude Poirier felt that this explanation did not hold water.“It is clear from our analysis of the provisions of the WFAD that, once the bargaining agents have first been notified of what positions are affected, there is nothing to prevent the government from releasing the details of the cuts by department and agency.”

Last May, CAPE contacted the other bargaining agents representing federal employees and shared with them its interpretation of the WFAD on this issue. CAPE also prepared a letter of protest and sent copies to these unions, urging them to forward their own versions of the letter to Treasury Board to indicate that they wanted the government to release the details of the budget cuts to the public.

In its letter, which was sent to Treasury Board’s Chief Human Resources Officer, CAPE stated quite clearly that it did“not oppose providing general information regarding the positions set to disappear.” Most of the other public service unions echoed those sentiments in their letters. CAPE also asked Treasury Board to urge departments and agencies to disclose clearly the number of positions they planned to eliminate in this work force adjustment exercise.

The pressures exerted by the various public service unions – not to mention Kevin Page’s threatened legal action against recalcitrant departments – seem to have been effective in producing results. By mid-October the Deputy Heads of 43 departments and agencies had confirmed that they would be providing the requested information, although some asked for more time to prepare it. Previously, 64 of the 84 organizations approached by the PBO had refused to comply with the information request. On October 24, Mr. Page confirmed that he will sue the refractory organizations.

We do not yet know when parliamentarians and the Canadian public will find out the true impact of the federal budget cuts, but the crusade mounted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, with the support of the federal public service unions, will at least make the process a bit more transparent. In April 2012, CAPE published an analysis indicating that the federal budget cuts would result in the disappearance of 40,000 jobs in the private sector, in addition to the 19,200 jobs that were being targeted in the federal public sector. Read the press release at:
/pdfs/General/files/PR_CP_jobs_losses_perte_emplois_3_4_12_e.pdf.