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The Parliament buildings in Ottawa are silhouetted at dusk.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Ottawa spends about $40-billion a year on staff.

For a Conservative government looking to trim costs, the personnel budget is an obvious target.

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Over the past three years, the government has made a series of promises and announcements related to staffing cuts and it can be a challenge to sort out what exactly has taken place in recent years.

In addition to eliminating more than 19,000 positions in the 2012 budget, there have been other moves to freeze wages, boost employee pension plan contributions and end severance pay for public servants who quit their jobs.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement is heading into an important year for collective bargaining, with dozens of union contracts set to expire over the coming months. There could be more moves to come.

Using Access to Information, The Globe and Mail obtained a briefing note that clearly spells out how much was saved or cut through recent moves.

A briefing note to Mr. Clement breaks down several policy moves. The interesting part is that federal public servants give the minister their best assessment of what each move has produced in terms of savings.

  • The Expenditure Restraint Act: This 2009 law imposed caps on increases, though it raised labour concerns that the government was overriding previously signed contracts. The Treasury Board note – dated Sept. 19, 2012 – says this move has led to annual ongoing savings of $1-billion.
  • Elimination of Severance for Voluntary Departures: Budget 2010 put unions on notice that the long-standing practice of accumulating severance that could be cashed in even for voluntary departures was coming to an end. This change is being implemented gradually as contracts are renewed. The minister was told this change is saving the government $500-million a year.
  • Adjustment to Pension Plans Contribution Rates: The 2012 budget called for employees to increase their contribution rates so that they reach a 50-50 split between employee and employer contributions. The minister was told this will save $800-million a year once it is fully in place by 2017-18.
  • General across-the-board cuts to government departments through the 2012 budget and other recent reviews are forecast to save $3.8-billion.

"Policy actions implemented by the federal government in recent years to reduce growth in employees' average total compensation are expected to provide significant savings," states the briefing note, signed by Michelle d'Auray, the then Secretary of the Treasury Board.

Details on federal spending cuts have been few and far between. Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tried – and failed – to use the Federal Court to force deputy ministers to hand over the information on 2012 budget cuts. Mr. Page's successor, Jean-Denis Fréchette, said he is going to get the information through discussions, but hasn't ruled out a new battle in Federal Court.

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Bill Curry covers finance in the Ottawa bureau.

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