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From the Harper years to the Chrétien era, opposing parties use fear to motivate public servants

PSAC members protest the Phoenix pay system on Laurier Avenue on Feb 28, 2019.
PSAC members protest the Phoenix pay system on Laurier Avenue on Feb 28, 2019.

Public servants can expect a return to Very Bad Times if they elect a Liberal or Conservative government — at least that’s the picture local candidates are painting in attacks on the opposing party.

To start the final week of the election campaign, Liberal candidates in the National Capital Region staged a news conference to share a dark message about the Conservatives’ plan for the federal public service. Almost half its core population is concentrated in the NCR.

“There’s a possibility, a strong possibility, that Andrew Scheer could win on Monday. And that means Andrew Scheer could get a chance to implement his platform,” said Catherine McKenna, the Liberal incumbent in Ottawa Centre.

The Tory platform, costed and released in full last Friday, promised to maintain the size of the full-time public service at 2020-21 levels until the budget is balanced. It also pledged to reign in non-personnel operational spending on federal government office space, consulting fees, travel and end-of-year “March madness.”

“Let’s think about the jobs that will go, think about the services that will be cut or curtailed,” McKenna said.

She referenced the Conservative platform assessment by former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy. It found that considering the platform’s proposed spending reductions, “It can be expected that there will be a negative impact on the quality of government services to Canadians and/or public service layoffs.”

McKenna posed a question to voters: “Do you want to go back to the time of Stephen Harper where there was no respect for public servants? Where there were cuts across the board that hurt families, but also hurt the critical services that we’re providing to Canadians?”

Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative incumbent in Carleton and the Tories’ finance critic, was quick to fire back at the Liberals.

“We have a fully-costed plan verified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer that protects the current number of public service jobs over every one of the next five years.” Poilievre said. “They’re spreading fear and misinformation on the eve of an election to cling to power.”

He also suggested the Liberals were trying to distract from the grey areas in their own platform, including a “new tax expenditure and government spending review” that’s projected to save $10 billion over four years.

“They have not explained where one penny of that money is going to come from,” Poilievre said. “I suspect that the Liberals will do what they did in the ’90s, when their deficit was out of control. There will be Liberal job cuts and Liberal tax hikes to pay for out-of-control Liberal spending.”

In Ottawa-Gatineau, the Liberals are the incumbent party in all but one of 11 area ridings. Poilievre is the sole Tory, hoping to be re-elected in Carleton for the fifth time.

McKenna spoke Monday beside her fellow Liberal candidates in Ottawa–Vanier, Ottawa West–Nepean. Kanata–Carleton, Orléans, Gatineau and Hull–Aylmer. She made the case for maintaining the status quo.

“A Liberal government … will continue to support, respect, and build the public service,” she said.

“We need to stop Andrew Scheer’s cuts by electing a strong Liberal team across the country, but especially here in Ottawa and Gatineau.”

In recent days, the polls have shown some indication that Liberal dominance in Ottawa might be slipping. On polling website 338Canada, Kanata–Carleton was classified as a “toss up” between the Liberals and Conservatives in the most recent projection.

In Nepean, the site shows a narrow Liberal lead with the Tories just behind. And formerly “safe” Liberal ridings Ottawa–Vanier and Ottawa Centre are now polling as “likely” Liberal, with support growing for the NDP and falling slightly for the Liberals.

Emilie Taman, the NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre, said the Conservatives’ plans for the public service are concerning. But she also objected to the suggestion that the Liberals are the only party that has bureaucrats’ backs.

“Their own record in government when it comes to public servants has some serious problems — i.e. not paying public servants properly,” Taman said.

“All signs seem to be pointing to a minority government, and what the Liberals are trying to do with fearmongering announcements like this is try to push themselves over the top to a majority government. And I actually think we would all be better off with a minority government and strong New Democrats in opposition, moving these issues forward in a real way.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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