So, Justice Minister Darin King says the provincial government is rehiring conservation officers to permanent positions in his department — and that this is a good-news story for conservation in the province.
But at the same time, King maintains the government is not backtracking on its budget promises to trim almost 20 people from the division.
Instead, now that the government has lifted its hiring freeze, the department is hiring its recently laid-off conservation officers to fill positions that were already vacant. The jobs will have to go through the usual hiring process, but King expects the former officers will meet the bill for the vacant positions — in the meantime, 19 have been hired on a temporary basis to fill in until the hiring process runs its course.
It’s an explanation that simply doesn’t make any sense — would it not have made more sense, and have been far more humane, to simply cut the vacant positions and keep wildlife officers and their families safely on the job? Or is this just a shell game to shed the officers of their seniority and benefits and to save money that way?
It gets even more interesting if you do the math on the department. There were, according to the department’s full-time job numbers in provincial budget documents, 59 full-time positions in the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division. Of those, 45 are front-line conservation officers.
King, however, says there are 72 positions, and after the cuts, there will be 54 — many of which were empty before the layoffs. King suggests it’s likely there will be more officers in the field after the 18 jobs that were lost than there were before the jobs were cut.
Listening to King’s original explanation of the cuts and hirings on CBC Radio certainly didn’t make the issue any clearer.
Here’s a sample: “Just this week, I signed off on approval for 19 individuals to be rehired for a short-term, 13-week period. And of course all of these people are experienced with us, and undoubtedly they’re the ones who are going to fill these positions on a permanent basis. I believe that’s going to make a significant contribution to enhancing our service.”
Putting back what’s just been taken away doesn’t sound like “a significant contribution to enhancing our service”; it sounds more like backtracking on a quick and badly made decision.
We asked King if he could offer a better explanation than that; he argues now that it was a matter of geography, and any other claims are merely political spin.
“We have not reversed cuts,” he maintains.
Instead, he says the government is addressing a situation where it had wildlife officers in areas where it didn’t need them, and vacant spaces in other parts of the province — so the government laid off the unneeded officers and plans to rehire them to work in places where they’ve decided the officers are needed.
It’s something that King says other government departments are doing as well.
“It’s not so simple as one could make it appear,” King says.
He’s certainly right about that.