THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA — Civil servants at the federal Fisheries Department have been told their budget is being cut by $53 million as managers deal with last year’s Conservative funding freeze in advance of deeper cuts to come.
Evidence of job losses across a number of federal departments is beginning to trickle out, with reports at Fisheries, Environment, Defence, the Bank of Canada and heritage institutions like the National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is retabling a budget he says will be almost identical to the one he delivered just over two months ago before the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was defeated.
Harper has roared back with a majority election win and all eyes are now on the most opaque areas of the budgetary blueprint — deep cuts to government spending.
The Conservatives promised during the election to slash federal spending by $4 billion annually within four years, but no one has detailed what programs or services might come under the knife.
“Anybody who says you can’t find money in Ottawa without cutting vital services to people simply is living in a fantasy world,” Harper pledged on the campaign trail.
“That’s not how government works. There are inefficiencies and it is your job to constantly find them.”
But this is not the Conservative government’s first spending review and a two-year freeze on budgets announced last year has already taken a bite from several departments for 2011-12.
Previously announced cuts and freezes will total $1.8 billion in savings annually by next year, according to a report from the parliamentary budget officer.
Sources say employees at Fisheries were told last week their department is getting hit with $53 million in cuts, while Environment eliminated 50 contract positions, the Bank of Canada cut 33 workers and the National Gallery sent five curators packing.
Defence is poised to chop at least 2,100 positions over three years, according to media reports. Civilization has at least 10 positions on the block, say reports.
Former treasury board president Stockwell Day has said attrition from retiring public servants would account for virtually all the job reductions. But public service sources say the government counts everyone eligible to retire as part of the attrition number. When eligible individuals opt not to retire early, then layoffs ensue.
When Flaherty delivered his March 22 budget, top bureaucrats were at a loss to explain where future savings would come from, and referred all such questions to individual ministers.
In the speech from the throne last week to open the 41st Parliament, the government said it would undertake a strategic review of spending while “preserving transfers to individuals and provinces for essential things such as pensions, health and education.”
— With files from Heather Scoffield and Jennifer Ditchburn