OTTAWA (Reuters) - The federal bureaucracy will shrink over the coming years as a result of budget curbs, the government said on Monday, prompting one opposition party to predict a major fight over the civil service’s future.
The minority Conservative government said last week it would freeze the overall operating budgets of Canada’s federal ministries for two years after the 2010-11 fiscal year.
The measure, announced in the federal budget, is designed to help cut a record budget deficit. Opponents say the right-leaning government is using the crisis as an excuse to cut the size of the bureaucracy on ideological grounds.
Stockwell Day, secretary of the Treasury Board, said the freeze gives ministries some leeway to decide how to make cuts. He also cited the fact that around 13,000 employees a year leave the bureaucracy, which according to official data employed 263,000 people in 2008.
When a reporter suggested to Day that the federal bureaucracy would be smaller in three or four years’ time, he replied: “There would be some logic in assuming that.”
He spoke after announcing that he was cutting 245 of the 2,700 positions on boards of directors at federal agencies, tribunals and commissions -- a 9 percent reduction.
“We don’t want to necessarily say that’s the matrix now to be imposed on every department ... I think in some divisions within a department you may see more people being hired on. In others you may see less,” he said.
Unions representing civil servants say they fear Ottawa has major job cuts in mind.
“We expect a real assault on the public service ... if he does intend to declare war on the public service he’s in for the fight of his life,” said Pat Martin, a legislator with the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
The former Liberal government cut a big budget deficit in the mid-1990s by firing thousands of civil servants and slashing health care spending.
“We’re not going to do this that way,” Day said.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway