Day won’t rule out cuts to bu­reau­crat wages, pen­sions


OTTAWA — Union leaders wor­ried about loom­ing fed­eral cost-cut­ting have scored what they hope is a pre­cious take-away from their meet­ings with Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Stock­well Day — the cab­i­net min­is­ter’s per­sonal con­tact num­bers.

Wed­nes­day’s move was more than sym­bolic.

Day’s ges­ture of hand­ing over his co-or­di­nates to the heads of the two largest fed­eral public­ser­vice unions should go a con­sid­er­able way to de­fus­ing height­ened ten­sions be­tween the gov­ern­ment and its 180,000 em­ploy­ees, the union leaders said.

Day sig­nalled his will­ing­ness to hash out cost-sav­ing so­lu­tions in tan­dem with the unions. The union leaders, in turn, said they take him at his word, and com­mit­ted to pre­par­ing their own pro­pos­als for cost re­duc­tions.

“It was very pos­i­tive,” said Gary Cor­bett, pres­i­dent of the Pro­fes­sional In­sti­tute of the Pub­lic Ser­vice of Canada.

How­ever, Day skirted ques­tions about whether cuts to pen­sion ben­e­fits, wages or the size of the civil ser­vice are in store. And he sug­gested that every­one in Canada, in­clud­ing civil ser­vants, will need to make sac­ri­fices to get Canada’s econ­omy back on track and the deficit elim­i­nated.

Civil ser­vants are on edge as the gov­ern­ment moves to tackle the grow­ing deficit, and as com­plaints from the pri­vate sec­tor about the gen­eros­ity of pub­lic ser­vice pen­sions mount.

Morale sank quickly af­ter Day took over the Trea­sury Board post last month and im­me­di­ately started talk­ing about trim­ming gov­ern­ment costs.

The unions rep­re­sent­ing gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees feared Ottawa would tar­get their pen­sion plans, and pos­si­bly dig into wages and hir­ing as well — as gov­ern­ments in the past have done in the name of deficit re­duc­tion. They launched a na­tional pe­ti­tion and cam­paign called “Hands Off Our Pen­sions” and com­plained loudly about the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the gov­ern­ment.

In a se­ries of meet­ings Tues­day night and Wed­nes­day, Day sought to bring down the level of anx­i­ety and re­as­sure em­ploy­ees there would be no rash de­ci­sions.

But at the same time, he warned that the econ­omy is “frag­ile” and that the best bet the pub­lic ser­vice has at main­tain­ing gen­er­ous pen­sions is to help foster a strong eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

So while the meet­ings with union leaders opened the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, there was lit­tle head­way on how much of the deficit bur­den the pub­lic ser­vice will have to shoul­der, said John Gor­don, pres­i­dent of the Pub­lic Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada.

“It gives me hope that there’s at least some good di­a­logue about main­tain­ing the in­tegrity of the pen­sion plan,” he said. “But what does that mean?”

Be­fore Ottawa can do any­thing to pub­lic ser­vice pen­sion plans, MPs need to take a hit, said Derek Filde­brandt of the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion.

The tax­pay­ers’ lobby group has long urged a re­duc­tion in MPs “gold-plated” pen­sions — a cam­paign adopted by the for­mer Re­form party and en­dorsed by some Con­ser­va­tives still in the House of Com­mons.

Filde­brandt cal­cu­lates that if Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper was to quit at the end of this year, he’d be el­i­gi­ble for at least $150,244 in an­nual pen­sion pay­ments.

For­mer vet­er­ans af­fairs min­is­ter Greg Thomp­son, who an­nounced his re­tire­ment af­ter 12 years in the House of Com­mons, will be get­ting at least $170,117 a year in pen­sions, Filde­brandt said.

Stock­well Day

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