Nfld. & Labrador

Liberals not keeping election promises with 30% cuts, says Jerry Earle

The president of NAPE says Newfoundland and Labrador's new Liberal government is going back on its election promises, with an announcement that layoffs could be on the table.
Jerry Earle says the province isn't keeping promises made in the November election, with a recent announcement that government is keeping layoffs on the table as it looks for 30 per cent budget cuts. (CBC)

The president of NAPE says Newfoundland and Labrador's new Liberal government is going back on its election promises, with an announcement that layoffs could be on the table.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett said Wednesday it would be "irresponsible" not to have all options be on the table, as government asks all departments and agencies to find 30 per cent savings in budget cuts.

Those savings could include possible layoffs, something NAPE's Jerry Earle said is in direct contract with election promises made by the Liberals in November.

Saying the public service is pretty well safe, no cuts, attrition. This is not attrition.- Jerry Earle

"This is a government that said there would be no layoffs," he told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"I was a little bit surprised to hear a significant turn in that position."

Documents sent out by government said agencies are encouraged to submit ideas that "extend beyond their individual mandates," specifically savings totalling 30 per cent of their 2015-16 expenditures over the next three years.

Earle said NAPE and other unions recently met with the province just over a week ago to talk about the ongoing fiscal process, and heard nothing about this.

While the union was prepared to give the new Liberal government "the benefit of the doubt," Earle said this puts things in a different light.

"Every person in this province, myself included, recognizes the difficulties that this province is in and we were prepared to have conversations with this government, but this makes us take a second look," he said.

'This is not attrition'

Cathy Bennett scrum 1:01

With the province looking to save 30 per cent, Earle said it's likely government is considering layoffs, considering how much money that would total.

To put it in perspective, Earle said a 30 per cent cut in just health care — which makes up 40 per cent of the province's budget spending — would mean closing two hospitals.

"If there was going to be 30 per cent cuts in health care, are you prepared to have less licensed practical nurses and less personal care attendants looking after our seniors in long-term care? Are you willing to have less paramedics? Are you willing to have less lab and X-ray diagnostic services?" he said.

Previously, the province had said it would look to save costs by cuts to the public service through attrition.

Earle said he had some concerns about that, but was willing to consider it more than layoffs.

Now, he said there will be a different tone, as unions and the province head to the bargaining table.

"We were prepared to come in to the bargaining table understanding the situation the province was in, in a very collaborative, co-operative approach," he said.

After hearing that departments were being asked to target significant costs, Earle retweeted a Nov. 25 tweet sent from Dwight Ball's account that said, "Under a a new Liberal Government, public sector jobs are safe." 

"Now we've got a government that told us [before the election] clearly … saying the public service is pretty well safe, no cuts, attrition. This is not attrition."

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