10/21/2011 10:18 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

Union says job cuts at ACOA will hamper service and program delivery

HALIFAX - Job cuts at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will inevitably affect business development programs in the region, a union official warned Friday.

Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said the federal government is eliminating 42 positions but up to 80 jobs could be affected in Atlantic Canada.

He said the majority of the jobs are front line workers, including economic development officers and technical support staff.

"These are all highly qualified professionals that will be involved in supporting the public in economic development plans they may have, so there is a trickle down affect," said Corbett.

He said entrepreneurs wanting assistance to start a business would be affected by the loss of advice and support in developing business plans and in submitting loan applications.

"You're losing people who can assist the economic development of businesses ... so the effects will be down the road."

Union officials said it was still unclear where the cuts will be made, but 80 union members received letters on Wednesday saying their positions could be affected.

The union said 16 letters had been issued at ACOA's office in Moncton, 24 across the rest of New Brunswick, 28 in Newfoundland and Labrador, nine in Prince Edward Island, and three in Nova Scotia.

Corbett said if jobs aren't cut, employees would likely be shifted to other positions at the agency.

The cuts announced Wednesday by Ottawa come as it tries to trim costs and reduce budgets across federal departments.

Bernard Valcourt, the minister responsible for ACOA, has said the agency identified $15.2 million in savings through cuts and other measures, including reducing travel and hiring fewer consultants.

A department official said slightly more than 100 employees received letters, but no more than 42 would lose their jobs and the number could be lower if some workers retire.

In response to a request for comment on the union's assertions on Friday, a department official emailed a statement from Valcourt in the House of Commons on Thursday: "These 42 positions that will be eliminated will not take away from the services being provided to entrepreneurs and communities of Atlantic Canada."

Tony Purchase, a commerce officer in ACOA's office in Halifax, said he believed the cuts would be noticed by business people.

"When you have fewer of anything you're going to have bottlenecks," Purchase said. "The system will inevitably be constrained."

The agency's funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year was $317.9 million. That figure is expected to be cut by $2 million in the next fiscal year.