The Conservative government is making significant cuts to Aboriginal Affairs and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as part of its plan to tackle a $26-billion deficit in the next two years.
A Globe and Mail analysis of 92 recently released spending reports provides the first detailed look at which programs will lose staff and money as Ottawa tries to save the equivalent of $1-billion a month to slay the deficit by 2015.
The reports also warn that services at the two high-profile departments could be affected.
“There is a threat that the agency will lack the appropriate inspection effectiveness to expeditiously prevent, detect and respond to threats to food safety, animals and plants,” says the report that deals with the food inspection agency.
The CFIA is projecting a 15-per-cent spending cut between the 2013-14 fiscal year and 2015-16, when the Conservatives are promising to post a surplus. Staffing will shrink by 14 per cent.
The agency, which is responsible for food safety and was widely criticized last year over a massive recall of beef from a processing plant in Alberta, insists the cuts won’t affect front-line staff.
The CFIA also says it hopes to secure more money if some expiring programs are renewed.
At Aboriginal Affairs, spending in 2015-16 is expected to be $1.2-billion less than in the current fiscal year – a decrease of 15 per cent. The cuts will affect several of the department’s programs, but about half of the reduction is connected to winding down spending related to a residential schools out-of-court settlement. The numbers do not include new spending of less than $100-million a year for Aboriginal Affairs programs that was announced in the March budget.
The report on spending at Aboriginal Affairs says the department’s relationship with native people faces “very high” risk over the coming years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched talks with senior First Nations leaders earlier this year on a range of economic and social issues, a pledge that came at the height of cross-country Idle No More protests on aboriginal issues.
Having promised to spend billions more on provincial transfers and with slower-than-expected economic growth, Ottawa has few options but to reduce direct federal spending to meet its deficit targets.
Although recent federal budgets have outlined high-level austerity plans, budget documents don’t list how individual departments will be affected.
The government posted 92 separate departmental “reports on plans and priorities” last week that break down planned spending in each department by program, including projected staff counts.
The Globe collected spending and staffing information from each of the reports and put them in a single database, which readers can access here.
The information comes with a few caveats. The reports do not include changes announced in the 2013 budget. Further, government programs that are scheduled to expire during the period are reported as cuts, even though they could be renewed, which would increase a department’s budget.
Nonetheless, they are the most detailed breakdown of federal spending plans available to the public.
Conservative cabinet members – including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – have often said most of the savings would involve “back office” spending. Cuts to Aboriginal Affairs and the CFIA – including specific reductions in the “food safety program” – appear to contradict that claim.
However, the reports also show that Ottawa is counting on big savings from administrative changes. For instance, spending at Public Works is projected to decline by 23 per cent, saving $644-million. Public Works expects government-wide administrative changes – such as squeezing public servants into tighter office space and paying them electronically rather than with cheques – will save millions.
A spokesperson for Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for spending cuts, said the government’s approach is “prudent and moderate” and will reduce the size of the federal public service by 5 per cent over three years.
Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, which represents CFIA food inspectors, disputes the agency’s claim that job cuts will not compromise food inspection.
“One thing that just drives me crazy is when they keep talking about all these admin cuts that somehow won’t affect inspection,” he said. “That’s just total nonsense.”