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Feds launching post-pandemic 'strategic policy review' of public service

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The federal government is launching a "strategic policy review" of the federal public service in a post-pandemic world, looking at everything from federal buildings to working from home.

However, one federal public service union is accusing the government of burying more than $9 billion in potential cuts as part of the review, while another union wants to make sure the review will not affect services offered to Canadians.

The 2022 Liberal budget outlines the "strategic policy review" of how the public service operates following the two year pandemic, targeting $6 billion in savings over the five years. The plan is to find $3 billion a year in savings annually by 2026-27.

The review, led by Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, would "identify opportunities to save and reallocate resources to adopt government programs and operations" in a new post-pandemic reality.

"Further areas of focus could include real property, travel, and increased digital service delivery, based in part on key lessons taken from how the government adapted during the pandemic, such as through increased virtual or remote work arrangements," the budget said.

The review will also assess program effectiveness in meeting the government's priorities in strengthening economic growth, inclusiveness and fighting climate change.

Canada's largest public sector union issued a statement on Twitter, saying the government "has buried more than $9 billion in potential cuts as part of a concerning 'Strategic Policy Review' and completely ignores the ongoing impact of the Phoenix pay disaster."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says the budget also "highlights the increasing reliance on privatization and contracting out of good, secure federal public service jobs."

PSAC national president Chris Aylward says the union is concerned about the scope of the review.

"What we are concerned about is that this could have a real impact on the public service that Canadians rely on day in and day out," Aylward told CTV News Ottawa Friday afternoon. "And could also ultimately lead to public service job cuts ...that we are very concerned about of course"

The president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada says the union isn't concerned about finding efficiencies within government operations to save taxpayers money.

"We can see shifting away from set offices and leasing spaces as saving a lot of money for the government," president Jennifer Carr told CTV News Ottawa.

"Working from hybrid situations, our public servants have shown they've done that effectively and efficiently over the last couple of years, and the government has opportunities to save money in travel, billing spaces and saves greenhouse gases and helps the climate agenda."

Carr says there are potential "huge savings" by looking at real estate and office spaces.

"My biggest concern is that the proper consultation won't be done with the unions to help find efficiencies that we can easily make and that we might be going back to a strategic review that was done in the Harper days where it was across the board spending cuts of 10 per cent," Carr says.

"That's not what Canadians deserve and that definitely has impacts on the services that we provide to them."

Tens of thousands of public servants continue to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving office spaces empty in downtown Ottawa and Gatineau.

Last month, Fortier gave departments the go-ahead to welcome more employees back to the office after two years of working from home. Departments and agencies were directed to gradually increase building occupancy in each department.

BUDGET ITEMS FOR OTTAWA

  • The federal budget will provide $12.1 million over two years to the National Arts Centre to support the creation, co-production, promotion and touring of productions with Canadian commercial and not-for-profit performing arts companies
  • The budget includes $50 million in funding to Canadian Heritage, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts to compensate Canadian arts, culture and heritage organizations or revenue loss during the pandemic. The Canada Council for the Arts is headquartered in Ottawa
  • The 2022 budget also includes previously announced funding to support downtown Ottawa businesses who suffered losses during the "Freedom Convoy" demonstration.

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