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Hey Tony, Cutting Jobs Is Not an Action Plan

10/17/2013 12:45 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer on public sector wages has renewed my conviction that we need to reset the relationship between the government and the public service, to one based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to delivering excellence for Canadians.

The PBO study, which I had requested, was an important independent review of public service spending over the past decade, mostly under the Conservative government. The PBO report showed that despite government suggestions to the contrary, real wages have not increased in the public service.

Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement has repeatedly suggested that individual public sector wages and benefits are to blame for rising government costs. He has demonized public servants in the media, using partisan rhetoric to justify massive cuts across the public sector. These cuts are part of a whiplash hire-and-fire cycle under successive Conservative and Liberal governments that have hurt public servants and their families, while creating a damaging boom-bust effect on Ottawa's economy.

Last year, Minister Clement announced to great fanfare that almost 11,000 public service jobs had been eliminated so far as part of the so-called Economic Action Plan 2012.

To the Minister, I respond: cutting jobs is not an action plan.

And according to the PBO's review, real wages and benefits have practically nothing to do with the increase in public sector spending. Instead, virtually all of the growth in expenditures is due to two factors: the need to keep pace with inflation, and an increase in the total number of public servants over the past decade. What's more, almost all of this increase occurred under the Conservative government -- the same government that now turns around and blames public servants for their own human resources decisions.

This is wedge politics at its worst: a deeply hypocritical whiplash management, where hiring binges are followed by massive cuts coupled with vicious attacks on the real victims of this flawed process.

The results are disastrous for our city. The Conservatives' poor management is making the public service less efficient and effective. Well-documented increases in burnout and illness among government workers are hurting their ability to provide quality services.

Meanwhile, the boom-bust cycle of hiring and layoffs is a serious disruption to the local economy.

The set of layoffs we are now experiencing are the second in recent memory, following massive layoffs during the mid-1990s under the Martin/Chrétien Liberals.

While the Conservatives promised it wouldn't be so bad this time, the numbers show a different story. John Baird, the Minister responsible for the National Capital Region, claimed the NCR would lose only around 7,700 jobs from the Conservative cuts. But Statistics Canada has reported that the NCR has lost a shocking 17,000 jobs.

Despite the promises that only "back-room" jobs would be cut, layoffs to front-line staff are a reality, and are making important services less accessible. Just try calling the CRA for information on your taxes. Chances are you'll get put on hold, and the helpful service counter on Laurier has been closed. Or try to get information from Service Canada about your pension. Staff cuts have made information and assistance inaccessible and slow.

It's time for MPs -- and in particular, Ottawa's Conservative MPs -- to stop beating up on their own constituents in the public service. And it's time for Ottawa's Conservative MPs to publicly reject Minister Clement's misleading claims that benefits and wages are on the rise. Instead, they should start advocating on behalf of their constituents and all Canadians for reasonable, evidence-based human resources management in the public sector.

With the resumption of Parliament, Prime Minister Harper has a chance to stop the rhetoric and attacks, press the reset button, and build a relationship with the public service based on mutual and professional respect for public servants, their families and our city.

It's time for the Conservative government to put evidence before partisan rhetoric, and stop blaming public servants for its own mismanagement and spending decisions. And it's time for Ottawa's Conservative MPs to stand up for their constituents and our local economy. I urge all of them to join me in calling on Minister Clement to end the boom-bust cycle of hiring and firing in Canada's public service.

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