Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister says spending cuts at the province's largest health authority will not hurt programs and services, despite a claim by the Opposition Liberals.
Opposition Leader Dwight Ball told the house of assembly Monday that he has learned Eastern Health will announce a cut of more than 550 jobs during a news conference on Tuesday.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan, who neither confirmed nor denied Ball's claims of job losses, nonetheless played down what she described as "some particular initiatives" that Eastern Health will disclose.
"We have made our commitment firm to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. There will not be cuts in programs and services," she said.
Ball was skeptical. "[With] $43 million and 554 jobs, it's certainly going to be felt by somebody," he told the house.
But when Ball asked whether there could be additional spending cuts at the three other regional health authorities, Sullivan responded with a different tack.
"What bothers me most about this is that there's a bit of fear-mongering happening now," Sullivan said.
"We will respond to those questions in as much detail as you want tomorrow," she said, while suggesting there was no reason for the public to be upset.
Eastern Health issued a brief statement Monday, noting that president and CEO Vickie Kaminski will "outline the organization's operational improvements."
The statement included no additional details of the scope of Eastern Health's decisions.
Eastern Health employs more than 13,000 people, which means that Ball's figures would amount to a workforce cut of about four per cent. It operates hospitals, clinics and other services on Newfoundland's Bonavista, Burin and Avalon Peninsulas, and serves about 290,000 people. It is also responsible for many of the tertiary and specialist services for the entire province.
The announcement comes just a month after the Newfoundland and Labrador government unveiled a budget that had been expected for weeks to contain substantial job cuts, but which wound up eliminating only 45 temporary jobs.
Meeting with union leaders
Union leaders have been asked to attend a meeting with Kaminski on Tuesday morning.
Wayne Lucas, CUPE's regional vice-president in Newfoundland and Labrador, said he was told about the meeting on Friday.
"I thought it was rather strange because I was quite busy tomorrow," Lucas told CBC News.
"I had other things scheduled. But the person indicated that they wanted the heads of the unions at a meeting on Tuesday morning, and they wouldn't entertain the thought of having somebody else there."
Lucas said he was not told anything about the agenda, although he said he has also heard rumours of major cuts.
Lucas said other unions asked to attend the meeting include NAPE, the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union and the Association of Allied Health Professionals.