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Treasury Board President Tony Clement speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 14, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Treasury Board President Tony Clement speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 14, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Union challenges Clement to sharpen budget axe in public Add to ...

The Conservative government should not be making deficit-reducing cuts to departmental budgets behind closed doors, Canada’s largest public-sector union says.

“What we’re saying is be open now,” Public Service Alliance of Canada president John Gordon said, “and they haven’t been so far.”

The government has hired consulting firm Deloitte Inc. at a cost of $19.8-million until March 31 – about $90,000 a day – to advise cabinet ministers and senior officials on how to erase the deficit.

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At the same time, managers have been offered cash incentives to make deep dents in the amount their departments spend. And departments have been told to come up with a slate of cuts worth 5 per cent and 10 per cent of their budgets – so the government can choose between the two options.

Mr. Gordon said he does not know how many departments have complied with that order to date. But all of the cost-savings proposals are being deliberated, in private, by a committee of cabinet ministers with the help of Deloitte, he said.

“And we’re saying, if they’re getting private advice, buying that private advice, they should be sharing that advice with the public,” the union chief said. “We’ve asked them to share it with us. They’re not inclined to do so at the present time.”

Mr. Gordon said he met some time ago with Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister who is responsible for the deficit reduction, and asked if the union would be apprised of the government’s cost-cutting plans. Mr. Clement, he said, replied that he would share information when that was appropriate.

The union boss then wrote Mr. Clement a letter on Oct. 28 demanding the budget trimming be done in the public eye.

“They should be sharing that information with Canadians” Mr. Gordon said. “People should have an opportunity to have an insight into it and to say, ‘wait a minute, making that kind of a cut is going to have an effect on this community or that community.’”

Mr. Gordon said he is concerned that Canadians will learn for the first time what federal programs are being cut at the release of the next budget.

He points the Employment Insurance program, where staffing reductions have created significant delays in the number of jobless people who are receiving their benefits in a timely fashion.

“There’s a lot of experts and I think the biggest experts are the people who actually carry out the work and the people who receive the services from the programs like EI,” Mr. Gordon said. “These people certainly have something to say about it, because they are the ones who are needing their EI now, not later.”

In response to the union's demand for more transparency, a spokesman for Mr. Clement said the Conservative government was elected to focus on important matters like jobs and the economy.

“Every day in the news Canadians see that economic instability is threatening the economies of countries in Europe, around the world and even the U.S., and much of this uncertainty is the direct result of government debt and deficits,” Sean Osmar said in an e-mail.

“Canada has managed to remain one of the safe ports in the storm; we’ve been identified as the best place to do business, remain a leader of developed economies for growth projection, are one of the few remaining countries who have retained a AAA credit rating, and continue to open new markets for our products,” he said.

To maintain that economic stability, the government remains committed to reducing Canada’s deficit through our government-wide spending review, Mr. Osmar added. It will continue to protect important services like healt hcare, he said, but “will also keep our country strong in the face of turbulent economic times.”

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