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National Gallery of Canada

National Gallery of Canada/National Gallery of Canada

The federal government's bid to curb spending amid a multibillion-dollar fiscal shortfall has delivered some of its first job casualties of the year, with cuts to scientists at Environment Canada and key positions at the National Gallery of Canada.

Five curators at the country's pre-eminent art gallery have been given layoff notices, while about 50 Environment Canada term employees, including scientists and scientific support staff, have been told they'll no longer have jobs by the end of the month.

Unions representing public-sector workers are warning these cuts are just the beginning, contending more federal departments and agencies will soon be affected. Newly minted Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said he's prepared to shut down programs and shrink the public service to reduce the country's deficit, projected at $29.6-billion this fiscal year.

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"This is the beginning of the wave," said union president Gary Corbett of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents laid-off workers at the National Gallery and Environment Canada.

Officials with the National Gallery and Canadian Heritage weren't available to comment Wednesday. Ottawa provides about 80 per cent of the gallery's operating dollars.

Four of the five curators losing their positions are full-time staff members. They've been told their positions will end in six months. A curator hired on term will leave at the end of June, about a month sooner than expected.

Curators manage collections and have expert knowledge of their art specialties. The soon-to-be-eliminated positions are curator of European art; curator of modern Canadian art; assistant curator of contemporary art; assistant curator, prints and drawings; and curatorial assistant, Canadian art. After the reductions, the curatorial staff will number roughly 24.

The layoffs are causing concern within the National Gallery. The union was told the cuts are tied to a mandate to find $400,000 in savings. "They're really pulling the rug from underneath us … This is a great loss of knowledge and expertise," one of the remaining curators said.

These aren't the first layoffs to hit the art institution in recent years as it has struggled with poor attendance and revenue shortfalls.

At Environment Canada, the roughly 50 job cuts aren't affecting permanent employees, department spokesman Mark Johnson wrote in an e-mail. The positions represent a fraction of some 6,000 employees who work for Environment Canada.

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Mr. Johnson said the term workers were hired on a short-term basis. He did not have details on whether the cuts are centred in one program or in several. "We are implementing our business plan to deliver on our priorities in the context of government-wide fiscal restraint," Mr. Johnson added.

Mr. Corbett said his union has heard speculation of job cuts possibly looming at the National Research Council Canada. A representative of Public Service Alliance, another major union, said there could be as many as 10 layoffs at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., including employees at the CMC's subsidiary, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

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