The full picture of where job cuts are happening and what programs will be affected may not be known until spring 2013, says Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

Clement, speaking from Brazil at a conference call with reporters Wednesday, expressed frustration over the difficulty of providing a clear picture of the cuts included in the March 29 federal budget.

Clement was attending a meeting for the Open Government Partnership, an international agreement towards transparent and accessible governance that Canada signed on to last year.

The government has said some 19,200 positions would be eliminated over the next three years as part of the government's planned  $5.2 billion in cuts to department spending. On the conference call, Clement emphasized that this number of positions actually translates into 12,000 jobs lost, net of attrition (due to retirements or other voluntary departures.)

But the government has not released detailed information on how those numbers break down in each department, even as thousands of public servants start receiving notices their positions could be affected.

Unions released indicators

Public sector unions have released detailed numbers, though, on which departments and regions are affected, and have claimed the government is downplaying the extent of the job losses.

Clement said workers must be informed, their options considered and a process followed before any cuts happen, making it difficult to provide accurate numbers until the workforce adjustment process is complete.

The minister also expressed frustration with Parliament's spending estimates process. 

Some additional job cut details may be presented in the government's supplementary estimates for 2012-13, which could surface next fall, but the complete picture is unlikely until the departmental reports on plans and priorities expected in May 2013.  

'Hostage' to government procedure

Pressed by reporters for more details on how the 12,000 lost jobs break down, the minister agreed that the time lag was too long, but said he has to follow procedures for reporting spending to Parliament.

"I'm hostage to this procedure. I want to be by the book in my reports to Parliament," he said.

"When we don’t hide behind a legal process, we’re accused of being in contempt, so I think we’ve got to stick to a process."

Clement admitted the confusion and conflicting numbers have frustrated everyone, and he welcomed any improvements that would speed up the process.

"It's frustrating for public servants, I'm sure," Clement said. "It's frustrating for managers, it's frustrating for us as politicians because we know the number that's out there is an inflated number.

"That's why in the budget we gave the actual number over three years. For the sake of illustration, if 30,000 notices were going out, people would know that's not the real number. It will be somewhat less than that," he said.

Public-sector unions are notifying the media when numbers of employees receive notices that their positions are "affected." But those figures don't represent the final number of civil servants who will actually receive a layoff package and leave the government.

Some affected employees will find other placements in vacant positions. And in some cases, "affected" employees who receive notices will be competing for the fewer positions that remain – the employees who win those competitions will remain.