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Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page prepares to testify before a Commons committee on March 16, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page prepares to testify before a Commons committee on March 16, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

With 6,000 jobs on chopping block, watchdog warns of deeper cuts Add to ...

The Conservative government is planning to chop at least 6,000 jobs over the next three years, even before it draws up a more aggressive plan for erasing Canada's deficit.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released the figure Monday in a report based on recently released data from Ottawa.

Last week, all departments released "plans and priorities" documents that outline future spending and staffing plans. The PBO combed through the reports to arrive at the tally.

In Monday's report, the budget office suggests MPs should ask officials why staffing levels are on the way down, while personnel costs are scheduled to rise.

Former Treasury Board president Stockwell Day has previously said Ottawa's personnel costs are on the rise partly because an ageing workforce is running up higher employee drug plan costs.

The PBO was looking for details on a pledge in the 2010 budget to freeze the government's operating budget for three years. Yet the savings outlined in these latest government documents are not enough to meet that target, according to the PBO.

The operating freeze was one of several initiatives promised by the government to curb costs. The 2011 budget promised $2.6-billion would be found via "strategic" spending reviews in 12 organizations. The 2011 budget promises to find a further $4-billion a year through a new "strategic and operating" review of government spending this year to be led by Treasury Board President Tony Clement..

The PBO notes that government data shows the number of full-time federal employees will shrink by 6,000 workers to 365,000, which is a cut of less than 2 per cent.

One of the largest sources of planned job cuts is at the Department of National Defence, where 1,700 jobs are expected to be cut. National Defence's own report on plans and priorities also shows the number of reservists will decline from 791 this year to 500 in 2013-14. The size of the regular force will remain steady at 68,000.

While the government's main estimates and plans and priorities provide a sense of where departments are headed, using the precise numbers can sometimes be problematic. The Main Estimates are only the first of a three or four step annual process used by departments to ask Parliament for spending approval. That means some departments may be waiting until "supplementary" estimates to provide further details of their plans. Also, reports on plans and priorities are only a general guide of the longer-term spending by departments.

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