Liberal majority leaves Ottawa civil servants cautiously hopeful

After a decade of Stephen Harper holding the country's reins, public servants in Ottawa are voicing cautious optimism at the fact Justin Trudeau is poised to become the country's next prime minister.

Conservatives' relationship with federal workers often adversarial

Federal civil servants are expressing hope that their relationship with incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau is stronger than what they had with the Conservatives' Stephen Harper. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

After a decade of Stephen Harper holding the country's reins, public servants in Ottawa are voicing cautious optimism at the fact Justin Trudeau is poised to become Canada's next prime minister.

Trudeau's Liberals won a solid majority Monday night, taking 184 seats — including all but one in the city of Ottawa — and ousting a Conservative government whose relationship with federal employees was often seen as adversarial.

One of those federal employees, Statistics Canada economist Mesfin Mirotchie, told CBC News Tuesday morning that he's hoping the new Liberal government will forge a  "constructive relationship" with civil servants.

'It's going to be a positive'

"I believe it's going to be a positive — probably different from what we have been experiencing," said Mirotchie of the decisive Liberal victory. "At the end of the day, it remains to be seen. I have to wait and see."

Statistics Canada economist Mesfin Mirotchie says he hopes Justin Trudeau's Liberal government will forge a "constructive" relationship with federal civil servants. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC Ottawa)

The Conservative government clashed with public servants on a number of issues, including the 2015 budget bill, which proposed a major overhaul of federal civil servants' sick leave provisions and disability programs that the government believed would create $900 million in savings.

Those changes were so contentious that twelve federal public service unions filed a legal challenge to Bill C-59, claiming the budget bill violated the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There were also loud outcries over the previous government's muzzling of federal scientists, including the saga of Environment Canada scientist Tony Turner, who was placed on administrative leave after recording a protest song that urged people to vote Harper out of office.

The Harper government also had plans to cut more than 19,000 public service jobs by 2015 — a major blow to the Ottawa-Gatineau workforce, where about 130,000 people are employed by the federal government.

Mood 'jubilant' after election

Stacy Hird has been handing out free newspapers at Tunney's Pasture for more than eight years, and said the mood Tuesday morning at the government complex — which houses Statistics Canada and Health Canada offices, among others — was "jubliant."

Stacy Hird says the mood is "jubilant" at Tunney's Pasture, where she's been handing out free newspapers to federal civil servants for more than eight years. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC Ottawa)

"It does matter to them who's in charge. They were laid off a few years back. And I had to be here and smile through a lot of teary eyes," said Hird.

The riding of Ottawa Centre is home to Tunney's Pasture, and Liberal Catherine McKenna, who won the seat Monday night, said she heard from many unhappy public servants when she knocked on people's doors during the campaign.

Public servants provide "frank and fearless advice," said McKenna, adding that there would be a change in the general tone around labour negotiations under the new government.

'Huge issues' to tackle

"We have huge issues that we need to tackle. Putting sick leave changes in a budget is not the way to do things," she said. "We're absolutely committed to collective bargaining, so we'll go back to the table and work on this."

A more "fair" approach to labour negotiations would be a major sign the Liberals are doing things differently than their Conservative predecessors, said Mirotchie, adding he hoped public servants would now be "a little bit more empowered" to question the status quo.

"It doesn't necessarily mean civil servants have to get everything they ask for," Mirotchie said.


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