While the 2016 federal budget reiterates the government's commitment to a "strong, respectful and productive relationship with the Public Service of Canada," that doesn't mean bureaucrats aren't in for some big changes over the next four years.
To make the public service both "innovative and agile," the budget outlines investments in some areas of the bureaucracy, while delivering cuts to others.
The Liberal plan aims to get rid of inefficient systems, wasteful spending obsolete initiatives. To that end, the budget proposes cutting $221 million in professional services, travel and government advertising, starting this year.
A cut to "professional services" — also known as consultants — will be welcome news to public service unions, but not so welcome to the thousands of contractors who currently provide services to government, especially in Ottawa.
"For us that would be perfect," said Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. "We have said, over and over that contract workers and hiring firms to come in is more costly to taxpayers than actually having a person there full time, year round."
'Obligation to find efficiencies'
"Under the leadership of the President of the Treasury Board, the Government will identify other changes and better align government spending with priorities," according to the budget document.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison will play a critical role in making sure the government's program money is spent efficiently, according to James Moore, former Conservative government industry minister. But Moore said Brison also has to manage the public service that will deliver those programs.
"The government has an obligation to find efficiencies," said Moore. "The Canadian economy is not growing at a robust pace. We need to get the economic engine in this country moving in the right direction so we can afford to spend money on things we want to spend money on."
That task includes streamlining and sharing services between departments including: human resources, finance and information technology.
But Benson notes if the government plans to enhance programs such as employment insurance and food inspection services, it will need to do some hiring.
"If you're going to enhance systems, you have to have people to do that. This government seems to have put money into those programs, but have they also put the money into the corresponding human resources? I think that's where the gap is right now," said Benson.
Some other highlights:
- The budget proposes significantly lowering annual operating costs for government, but it will spend $75.2 million over two years to make that transformation happen.
- Shared Services Canada has already begun consolidating many information technology programs for the government. In this budget, more money would go to that department: $383.8 million over the next two years to "support the transformation of government IT systems, data centres and telecommunications networks."
- There's also money to improve the government's IT security, with a proposal of $77.4 million over five years to implement new security measures.
- The Canada Revenue Agency will need to invest in workers if it's going to improve client services. The budget proposes $185.8 million over five years to reduce wait times for calls to CRA and provide better client services.
- The budget reiterates the government's commitment to collective bargaining and states it will not make any unilateral changes to sick leave.