CAPE’s Review of the 2023 Federal Budget

2023 Federal Budget Meeting

On Tuesday, March 28, the Liberal government unveiled its 2023 federal budget which proposes several policy proposals aimed at improving the lives of Canadians.

Some key features of the 2023 budget of potential interest for CAPE members are measures such as curtailing spending on outsourcing; funding to address pay issues of the beleaguered Phoenix pay system, and funding to address ongoing harms faced by employees who have suffered harassment and discrimination, among others.

But the announcement that caught CAPE’s attention the most by far is the proposed reduction of three per cent of eligible spending by departments and agencies by 2026-27 to reduce government spending by $7.0 billion and by $2.4 billion on an ongoing basis.

Budget proposals of interest to CAPE members:

  1. Curtailing spending on consulting and professional services (including outsourcing of contracts)

The government’s intention to curtail spending on consulting is good news for CAPE who recently, in a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, presented its adverse impact on its TR members and official languages stating that  “contracting out is costly, chips away at the quality and availability of translation and interpretation services and harms people and official languages.”  CAPE had lamented the fact that the practice had become a regular default when it comes to offering core federal services such as translation and interpretation.

Curtailing spending on consulting services could lead to job creation, with new positions for employees that would enjoy all the rights, protections and benefits federal public sector employees should expect.

  1. Supporting a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive public service

The government continues to acknowledge that “systemic racism has been a reality for Black Canadians for far too long,” and in budget 2023, it proposes to create a Mental Health Fund for Black public sector employees and establish dedicated career development programs, including to prepare Black public sector leaders for executive positions. Although CAPE supports this initiative, it should have happened years ago given the pain inflicted to the Black employee community after decades of abuse and discrimination.

  1. Supporting official languages

The government is creating a centre of expertise to ensure federal institutions fulfill their duty, under the Official Languages Act, to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities, and to support data and research on the number of children who have a right to be educated in the minority language. It is yet to be determined what this will amount to at a time when CAPE is still awaiting a follow-up on its own recommendations delivered in the context of the national consultations as part of the review and update of the Official Language Act.  CAPE also takes note of the fact that Indigenous Communities have reported not being involved in the drafting of laws, directives and measures related to official languages that may have catastrophic impacts on their culture and identity. So many questions remain here on what to expect, and how beneficial this will be for all Canadians.

  1. Addressing Workplace Harassment, Discrimination, and Violence

The government proposes to advance a program to empower employees who have suffered harassment and discrimination and to drive cultural change in the government. The funding will also be used for a review of the processes for addressing complaints of harassment, violence and discrimination.

Budget 2023 also proposes money to the Privy Council Office to create a new Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion Secretariat, as well as an additional funding to the Department of Canadian Heritage to support Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy.

This amounts to some admission of neglect and wrongdoing in the federal government and is a welcome development.

  1. Phoenix Pay System

More funding is being earmarked to continue to work on a potential next generation pay system to replace the beleaguered Phoenix pay system. In the meantime, more funding is also being earmarked for ongoing fixes to the pay system and to sustain the current staffing levels of personnel who work to address the ongoing pay systems transactions. While Phoenix issues have slightly gone down, CAPE continues to count Phoenix cases in the hundreds so continued funding was anticipated and no amount of money will never be enough to compensate the extent of the damage caused to thousands of federal employees, the hardship endured by unions at a loss to support their members who were either overpaid, underpaid, never paid, and facing hundred of hours of uphill battles with the government to fix this historic mess.

  1. Prohibiting the use of replacement workers

The government is pledging to amend the Canada Labour Code to prohibit the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. While CAPE has not previously engaged in strike action, it sees this as a positive development overall as this commitment would provide additional protection to all unionized workers, including federal public sector employees from any sister union that may consider taking strike action.

  1. Curtailing spending across federal departments

To reduce ongoing costs, the government is seeking three per cent savings in efficiencies from the various federal departments. There is little detail around this budget item or what it may entail for public sector employees.  CAPE is concerned with the lack of specifics and will work with its Employment and Benefits Defence Sub-Committee to make sure CAPE is ready to step in to protect its members employment and benefits as concrete measures are announced.  Meanwhile, CAPE will also look at ways to remind the government that savings could be achieved by reducing government office space and allowing workers more flexibility in their work arrangements, in reference to the misguided return-to-office mandate and botched roll out.