Public service unions are bracing for potentially thousands of job cuts in Ottawa following the release of the federal budget on Monday.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has promised to find $4 billion in annual savings, with a plan to start by trimming 5 per cent of government spending every year of the government's term.
On Monday, Flaherty confirmed that in order to meet the goal of balancing the budget by 2014-2015 — a year earlier than initially planned — some federal programs would have to be terminated. No further details were provided.
At a news conference reacting to the budget, John Gordon, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, predicted that reducing the $56-billion deficit would come at the expense of federal jobs and essential services.
Cuts at several departments
"The Harper Conservatives have decided to transfer $4 billion from vital public services to corporate bank accounts, with no strings attached," Gordon charged.
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He said that voters did not elect a Conservative majority in order to see programs that they rely on fall on the chopping block.
"A majority in Parliament does not give Harper the licence to ignore the Canadian public, but instead, of listening to Canadians," Gordon said.
Gordon said the federal public service unions have already started to mobilize members, asking them to talk to their MPs and demanding consultations about where the cuts will come from.
"They'll say this is what I do for the government. Are you looking at cutting my job? And if you cut my job, here's what it's going to mean in this community alone," Gordon said.
Several departments are already making cuts based on last year's funding freeze. Over the last few weeks, there have also been job losses at several departments, including at National Defence, Human Resources, Environment Canada and the National Gallery. There was also news on Monday of $53 million in cuts at Fisheries and Oceans.
The last time the federal government underwent major cuts was in the mid-1990s, CBC Ottawa's Julie Ireton reported.
134,000 federal employees in Ottawa
"In that case, thousands of public service workers lost their jobs, but at the time a lot of these highly educated workers in Ottawa went in to high tech, which at the time was booming," she said.
Ottawa's technology sector has since shrunken considerably, and the job market is not as diverse as it was before, with many people working directly or indirectly for the federal government, a major industry.
A review of department spending is already underway. A cabinet committee led by Treasury Board president Tony Clement will make the final decisions about which federal programs get axed.
According to Statistics Canada, the federal government had 417,700 employees as of September 2010. Just under a third — about 134,000 — work in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. These numbers don't include the hundreds of thousands of contractors who do work for the government as well.