Government workers are bracing for massive job cuts given that slashing the $56-billion deficit is expected to be the focus of next week's federal budget.
They also warn that cutting public service jobs means chopping programs and services Canadians rely on.
"I fully expect to see government targeting public-sector jobs going forward," said Patty Ducharme of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union representing most public servants.
She said cutting public service jobs, or any jobs for that matter, will hurt the fragile economy.
Canadians' assurances of safe water, air, transportation and food are also at stake, added Gary Corbett, who heads the union that represents scientists, architects and other professionals in government.
"They all depend on a public servant somewhere watching a regulation or testing a regulation and making sure that regulation is upheld."
However, Treasury Board president Stockwell Day said while some departments will see "reductions" in Tuesday's budget, others will actually see new hires.
"There will be nothing of the kind of public-service job losses that we saw in the mid-90s where it was in the tens of thousands. Nothing on that scale. It will be a very managed process."
But parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said that's not how to slay a deficit in the long term.
"It's not as simple as what we did in the 2010 budget where every department is going to freeze its operation budget, so everybody gets a haircut so to speak. I think you have to say we're out of this business, or we're going to do more of this business."