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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Ottawa Board of Trade's Mayor's Breakfast Series with Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe in Ottawa, on March 28.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pressing the federal government to get public servants in Ottawa into their offices more regularly as a means of helping the capital’s downtown core.

Mr. Ford made the point Thursday as he announced a “new deal for Ottawa,” a financial package of up to $543-million in operating and capital funding to help the city on a number of fronts.

The plan includes a phased effort to guide the provincial upload of Ottawa Road 174 in the city’s east end, government support to repair and upgrade connecting routes and rural roads, and financial aid to open a police operations centre in the Byward Market – the city’s key downtown retail and entertainment area.

But during a speech and in a news conference afterward, Mr. Ford raised concerns about the impact of federal public servants not being in the downtown core of the second most populous city in the province after Toronto.

“As the largest employer in the city, the federal government needs to do its part to help rebuild the city’s economy,” Mr. Ford, accompanied by Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, told a breakfast gathering at Ottawa’s downtown convention centre.

“I know a lot of people love working at home, and that’s fine, but we need the federal government to get government workers back into the office – even a few days,” the Premier said to applause from an audience of hundreds.

A return to the office would be helpful to the city’s transit system and its downtown economy, he said. “Without the people down there, the economy starts dying and the restaurants start hurting and everything else starts hurting, so hopefully the Prime Minister will start calling people back to work.”

Mr. Ford repeated his call at the news conference, saying again that the federal government needs to get people back to work.

“Even like three days. Anything,” he said.

Mr. Ford said it’s a “normal request” for those who get hired. “Come to work. Imagine if I told everyone else in the province, `You don’t have to go to work.’ ” Our economy would be shot. They shouldn’t get special treatment,” he added, apparently referring to federal public servants.

Mr. Sutcliffe, speaking directly after the Premier, did not directly respond to Mr. Ford’s assertions about federal workers, but said it was important to have the federal government join the province to work with the city on issues related to bolstering transit.

A report late last year on revitalizing downtown Ottawa raised concerns about the fate of the city’s downtown core.

“Tens of thousands of people no longer come downtown daily with the advent of hybrid workplaces and the loss of many businesses,” said the report, issued last November by a task force whose members include business representatives, housing advocates, members of the development community and Indigenous leaders.

“We need the ability to immediately attract visitors and in the long-term attract new residents, especially families. Residents and businesses need to feel supported by the city.”

Asked about the Premier’s comment, a representative of the federal Treasury Board, responsible for the administrative management of the federal public service, replied with a statement defending its policy on the issue.

The government has adopted a hybrid work model that provides public servants with weekly opportunities to work with colleagues and partners while having flexibility to work off site, said a statement from Rola Salem of the department’s media-relations office.

The statement said an on-site presence of two to three days each week, reflecting 40 to 60 per cent of a regular schedule, offers the benefits of working in person and the flexibility of working off-site.

Meanwhile, the communications director for Caroline Mulroney, the president of Ontario’s Treasury Board, noted in a statement that the province has similar rules to the federal guidelines.

Members of the Ontario public service are supposed to attend the workplace a minimum of three days per week, though this guidance does not apply to employees whose work necessitates attending the workplace in-person full-time, said Andrea Chiappetta.

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