Coast guard takes brunt of fisheries department cuts

More than 1,000 workers with DFO, including 763 with the Canadian Coast Guard, receive notices their jobs could be affected by pending cuts.

1,000-plus employees could be on the chopping block

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay in this 2008 file photo. The coast guard is taking the brunt of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

More than 1,000 workers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, including 763 with the Canadian Coast Guard, received notices Thursday that their jobs could be affected by pending cuts.

The total number comes to 1,072, according to the affected unions. But when contacted by CBC News, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield's office said only 400 jobs are actually being eliminated.

The department is planning a number of changes, including shrinking the number of regional coast guard offices from five to three. That will see the Newfoundland and Maritimes regions amalgamated.

The regional centre in Dartmouth, N.S., will also be shuttered.

Keith Ashfield is the minister of fisheries and oceans. ((CBC))

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) confirms the search and rescue station will be closed in one of Canada's busiest ports, Vancouver.

CBC News has also learned that there are plans to reduce the number of marine traffic centres in Newfoundland. Those centres monitor thousands of vessels offshore and provide vital communication to anyone in distress.

Sources tell CBC News that the traffic centres in St. John's and St. Anthony will be cut over the next three years.

The mayor of St. Anthony, on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula, was outraged by the decision.

"I woke up this morning hearing about fish plants; two more closing down," Mayor Ern Simms said. "Now I'm hearing of DFO closing down. I mean, what's happening in Newfoundland? Where are we going? The fishery and everything involved with the fishery is what we're made from and hopefully where we're going. But if you take out all the supports now, you're never going to get them back." 

A total of 598 employees represented by PSAC received notices, according to the union. The regional breakdown:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador — 58.
  • Nova Scotia — 98.
  • New Brunswick — 29.
  • P.E.I. — 13.
  • Quebec — 107.
  • Ontario — 72.
  • National Capital Region — 119.
  • Manitoba — 13.
  • British Columbia — 86.
  • North — 3.

Meanwhile, the various unions that represent the workers say they find it ironic that the cuts are coming as the coast guard celebrates its 50th anniversary.

"These are radical changes," said Jeannie Baldwin of PSAC in Halifax. "It only benefits the politicians, because it doesn't benefit the public, it doesn't benefit the work and it doesn't benefit the fishery habitat that we so proudly protect and conserve."

Baldwin says the cuts mean not just jobs, but the end of programs.

The union says the department is planning to outsource DFO observers on fishing boats.

Field offices are also facing closure, as are fish hatcheries, department libraries and research stations.

The layoffs are the second round of cuts in five months at DFO.

In December, 400 employees received notices — half of them scientists.

Gary Corbett is with the union representing scientists and researchers. Some 130 of his members also received notices today.

"It looks like this government is trying to de-regularize a lot of the rules and policies in this country, things like how we monitor the habitat and protect the resource," Corbett said. "It seems to me this government is opening up those regulations so the resource can be tapped."

The job cuts are part of the government’s plan to cut DFO’s operational budget by $79.3 million.