P.E.I. Senator Percy Downe is calling on MPs across Atlantic Canada to fight against cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Downe attended a meeting in Charlottetown Thursday of close to 20 members of the business community who were brought together to discuss their concerns.
The federal department announced recently plans to cut $226 million from its budget over the next two years. This budget cut will lead to a loss of 500 jobs and The Guardian has reported a further 150 to 300 jobs are also on the chopping block.
"Over the last three years, employment of federal government positions in Atlantic Canada have been reduced by over 400 at a time when the federal government was expanding,'' Downe told The Guardian. "The ministers in Atlantic Canada have to go to their colleagues around the cabinet table and (tell them) we can't have a disproportionate cut in our region. That's an argument the rest of cabinet would be receptive to.''
The senator said over the same time period, 119 federal government positions on P.E.I. were eliminated, according to figures provided by the Treasury Board.
Kathy Hambly, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, said several initiatives came out of Thursday's meeting.
"We're just in the process of putting together a letter that we will send to our federal representatives to express our concerns on behalf of the business community,'' Hambly said. "We're also looking to reach out to other chambers across the region who are also being impacted. It's not just Veterans Affairs jobs. It's federal employment levels across the region that are being reduced over the last three years even though federal employment levels have increased.''
"Over the last three years, employment of federal government positions in Atlantic Canada have been reduced by over 400 at a time when the federal government was expanding." - Sen. Percy Downe
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee was out of town on Thursday so Ron Atkinson, the city's economic development officer, sat in on the meeting.
"Mayor Lee is taking this issue very seriously. It's something that is very important to him,'' Atkinson said.
Downe said he understands there will be cuts but feels the need for DVA in the future will be a lot greater than many people think.
"The younger generation of veterans is having a much higher demand on resources (and) they are much more aware of treatment options that are available,'' the senator said.
He said it's a generation that understands things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a lot more now, a generation that is Internet and media savvy.
"People, from those peacekeeping in Bosnia right to Afghanistan . . . their needs are going to be greater and whatever their needs are the Government of Canada has an obligation to them. You simply cannot cut $226 million from the department and claim there will be no reduction in service. It's an impossibility.''