© Guardian file photo
Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown
Employees of Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown will likely be hit hard by public service job cuts announced as part of Thursday’s federal budget.
Rumors about deep job cuts at the federal department headquarters in the capital have been circling for months in advance of Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s austerity budget.
On Thursday, Flaherty only broadly outlined that 19,200 federal jobs are to be cut over the next three years, but gave no indication of where these jobs will be lost except they will be mainly in “national capital region” and that regional positions will be mostly untouched.
But details within the budget document show Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) will see a spending cut of $36.1 million this fiscal year. Cuts will continue next year with a further reduction of $49.3 million in 2013-2014 and another $66.7 million in 2014-2015.
When asked if VAC employees in Charlottetown would be safe due to Flaherty’s assertion that regional jobs will be unaffected by upcoming cuts, P.E.I. MP and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea did not offer much hope.
“With Veterans Affairs it’s a bit of a different situation because all other head offices of the departments are in Ottawa with the exception of Veterans Affairs which is in Charlottetown,” Shea said in an interview.
“The bulk of the staff would be in Prince Edward Island, so it’s in a bit of a different situation.
Liberal Veterans Affairs critic and Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said the cuts contained in the budget equate to a 10 per cent slash to VAC’s spending for employees and salaries.
“Our worst fears have materialized. The budget’s bad news for P.E.I.,” Casey said.
He plans to hold the Harper government to its word in saying that regional positions would be spared the axe.
“I will be watching them like a hawk to make sure that paragraph holds true… I hope the words on the page mean what they say and say what they mean.”
But Jody LaPierre, provincial director for the Public Service Alliance of Canada who also works for VAC, said he recognizes the Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown will likely bear the brunt of any imminent job cuts.
And this will be deeply damaging to services, he said.
“At Veterans Affairs here in P.E.I., they’re cut to the bone with attrition taking place now, people leaving and the jobs not being replaced,” LaPierre said.
“It just cannot sustain any more cuts without affecting the services provided to the clients, the veterans.”
Veterans Affairs has already identified 500 positions for elimination over the next four years due to a strategic review performed last year aimed at reducing department spending.
Debbi Buell, the national vice president for Charlottetown for the Union of Veterans Employees, says any further reduction on their already lowered staffing levels will lead to poor service delivery for veterans.
“We’ve had several austerity measures over the past couple of years so it’s coming now to the perfect storm where people who are eligible to retire, not saying they will, but once they do those jobs are gone. They won’t be replaced,” Buell said.
“It’s definitely going to affect service in Charlottetown and across the country… the workers at Veterans Affairs care very deeply for our clients but you can only do so much when you keep getting workload upon workload.”
Federal officials have maintained benefits for veterans will not be affected by any austerity measures imposed on the department.