Atlantic Federal Government Job Losses are Ottawa's Gain

  • National Newswatch

Between 2008 and 2014, over 1,784 federal government jobs have been eliminated in Atlantic Canada. During the exact same time period, the Ottawa area had their federal government job employment increase by 1,835 positions.These figures from the Public Service Commission of Canada tell a disturbing story. In a region suffering high unemployment and a shortage of secure jobs, Atlantic Canadians have lost federal government positions at the very same time the Ottawa area has increased their number of federal jobs.If it was announced that 1784 permanent full time jobs with good wages, pensions, medical and dental benefits were coming to Atlantic Canada, with a yearly payroll of over $100 million, it would be front page news throughout the region. Unfortunately, that is what has been lost in our region in the last six years.The loss of a federal payroll of over $600 million dollars over the last six years means that money is not circulating in the Atlantic Canadian economy to buy cars, homes, clothing, all of which contribute to building our economy and creating and maintaining other jobs in the service sector.Federal government job losses in Atlantic Canada include positions at Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, Correctional Service Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada, Health Canada, Industry Canada, Transport Canada; the list goes on and on.In these difficult economic times, every job is precious, both to the people who need the work to support themselves and their families and to the economy in general. Nowhere is this more true than in Atlantic Canada, where this current economy has resulted in thousands of our citizens leaving home.Obviously, government alone cannot solve the problem of unemployment. Meaningful economic development can only come from a healthy balanced economy that respects and welcomes the role of a robust private sector to invest the time and money to create the jobs that will keep Atlantic Canadians in the region to build their future.However, a balanced economy means that there is an important role for our government to play. In addition to a range of programs from tax policy to procurement, the federal government is Canada's largest employer: even excluding the military and the RCMP, over a quarter of a million people are employed by the Government of Canada. These jobs, and the purchasing power they represent, make the federal government an important player in the Canadian economy, and the way those jobs are distributed across Canada has a major impact on regional economies.In the past, moving government employment away from Ottawa has served to spread these jobs - and the benefits derived from them – throughout the country. Clearly, federal government jobs can play an important role in the economy of a region like Atlantic Canada, and the best example of the benefits of decentralization is the move of Veterans Affairs Canada from Ottawa to Charlottetown, the only national headquarters of a federal government department based outside the National Capital Region.Unfortunately, that positive trend of decentralization has reversed in recent years. Recently, senior government officials based in Ottawa have been seeking to preserve, expand and protect federal government employment in Ottawa at the expense of the regions, especially when considering how many of the highest paying “EX level” jobs are located in the Ottawa area. It is not only the number of jobs being lost; it is the high-paying nature of the jobs.A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer notes that recent cuts in the federal public service, “have disproportionately affected employees outside of the National Capital Region.” This conclusion is borne out in other studies. According to statistics from the Treasury Board of Canada, the growing concentration of public service jobs in the National Capital Region is a trend going back several years, but one that has worsened in recent years. In 2000, 35.5% of all federal public servants worked in the Ottawa area; as of this year that number was 41.7% The result is an increasingly lopsided centralization of federal jobs and the payroll that goes with them, to the detriment of the rest of Canada.The federal government must recognize that it is responsible for – and to – the whole of Canada. Fairness dictates that Atlantic Canada should not suffer disproportionately while Ottawa increases its share of federal government jobs.If the federal government was reducing jobs equally across Canada, Atlantic Canadians would understand that we must absorb our share of the cuts. But as the numbers from the Public Service Commission show, that is not the case: Ottawa job numbers increase by over 1,800 while we are down by 1,784 in Atlantic Canada.During the current federal election campaign, there are a number of important issues where the federal leaders and their candidates need to clearly state their positions. It seems to me that a commitment to return those jobs and salaries back to Atlantic Canada should be a priority.Percy Downe is a Senator from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.