Feds to look at how public servants deliver services post-pandemic

The federal 2022 budget includes plans to launch a 'strategic policy review' of how the public service does its work in a post-COVID era, an initiative that could have ramifications for federal workers in the national capital region. 

'Strategic policy review’ aims to save $6B over 5 years, according to 2022 budget

People walk past the Place du Portage IV government complex in Gatineau, Que., in late 2019. The federal government's 2022 budget says allowing federal public servants to work from home more permanently and potentially selling off federal buildings could help save $6 billion over five years. (Antoine Trépanier/Radio-Canada)

The federal government plans to launch a "strategic policy review" of how the public service does its work in a post-pandemic era, an initiative that could have ramifications for federal workers in the national capital region. 

Thursday's budget signals that the federal government is moving past pandemic-era spending — the wage subsidy is ending this fiscal year, for example — while also looking at how COVID-19 could reshape how the government delivers its services. 

Allowing federal public servants to work from home more permanently and potentially selling off federal buildings could aid in the government's effort to save as much as $6 billion over five years.

The budget proposes the government find ways to save money in the areas of "real property, travel, and increased digital service delivery."

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said cuts to the federal bureaucracy — under the leadership of former prime minister Steven Harper — are still raw.

"We have serious questions on what exactly they're planning to do in terms of cutting," she said, adding she hopes public servants will be consulted on the process.

"We definitely don't want to see something like the Harper era where they went across the board and did 10 per cent cuts everywhere."

Many federal office buildings in downtown Ottawa remain nearly empty as civil servants continue to work from home, and the budget document suggests that going forward, workforce strategies could include "more virtual or remote work arrangements."

"These efforts would target savings of $6 billion over five years, and $3 billion annually by 2026-27," according to budget documents.

A comprehensive "strategic policy review" would be led by Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board and MP for Ottawa-Vanier.

Carr said it's possible the review will — in-part — focus on the government selling buildings or ending leases on office space that is currently sitting empty.

"We really want to make sure that the strategic review, that it has the least effect on Canadians, the services to Canadians, and on our ability to provide those services on their behalf," she said.

This review would also assess "program effectiveness" in meeting other priorities like economic growth, inclusiveness, and the fight against climate change.

"The government is trying to frame this review as a way to find savings in the wake of the pandemic," said Chris Aylward, the Public Service Alliance of Canada's national president.

"But we have serious concerns, and will be keeping a close eye on the implementation to make sure that public service workers aren't paying the price of these so-called savings through job cuts and austerity."

New, targeted program spending

In the meantime, there's new proposed spending and programs aimed to start this year in other federal departments and agencies:

  • $45 million over four years to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada supporting projects in Canada's semiconductor industry.
  • $40.9 million over five years to the federal granting councils to support targeted scholarships and fellowships for promising Black student researchers. 
  • $272.6 million over five years to Employment and Social Development Canada to support an employment strategy for persons with disabilities.
  • $20 million over five years for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to explore the long-term effects of COVID-19 infections on Canadians.
  • $25 million over three years to Library and Archives Canada to support the digitization of documents relating to the federal Indian day school system.
  • $12.1 million over two years to the National Arts Centre to support creations, co-productions, and promotions with Canadian performing arts companies.

With files from Joanne Chianello