The last time the Conservative party was in power, working Canadians everywhere paid a heavy price – especially those who deliver public services.
As an MP and then minister, Erin O’Toole propped up Stephen Harper’s unprecedented slashing of federal spending by billions of dollars.
O’Toole is ready to pick up where Harper left off. His platform is riddled with ways he’ll ‘achieve savings’ and make government ‘more efficient’ by contracting out public services to private companies.
That will mean job losses for PSAC members, greater profits in the hands of mega-corporations, and devastating cuts to the vital public services Canadians depend on.
If we truly want a full and just pandemic recovery, it’s important to take a frank look back at the dismal Conservative track record on public services.
Public service cuts
The Conservatives cut 26,000 jobs in the public service in less than four years, including closing nine Veterans Affairs offices. This was the largest cut to staff at Veterans Affairs in Canada’s history. And while Erin O’Toole was the minister of Veterans Affairs, he did nothing to stop it.
The Harper government eliminated hundreds of positions at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of National Defense, and by making cuts to the Coast Guard and Canada Border Services Agency, putting Canadians at risk.
They also planned to cut $2.6 billion over five years from science-based agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment Canada, and drastically weakened environmental protection regulations, making it easier for large corporations to pollute.
Harper drastically reduced staff at Service Canada, where Conservative budgets aimed to reduce the workforce at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC, formerly HRSDC) by 24 per cent by 2016, impacting the services our members deliver to Canadians.
Phoenix pay system
In 2015, in an attempt to cut costs, Stephen Harper eliminated hundreds of pay advisor jobs, and introduced the disastrous Phoenix pay system. This caused huge amounts of stress, financial uncertainty, and even bankruptcy for tens of thousands of PSAC members.
Deputy ministers were paid millions in bonuses to advance these and many other cost-cutting goals.
PSAC members paid the price, facing uncertainty about their careers, a huge increase in workload, and for far too many, unemployment, while Canadian taxpayers have taken the brunt of the $2 billion it has taken to stabilize the faulty pay system.
O’Toole will pick up where Harper left off
Stephen Harper cut these and other valuable public services and threw tens of thousands of people out of work in the name of making the government more efficient.
Now – on the last page of the Conservative platform – Erin O’Toole aims to reduce the deficit by "looking for ways to achieve savings by making government more efficient."
The O’Toole Conservative platform is also full of promises to “cut red tape” and work more closely with the private sector. He plans to privatize public services at Health Canada, Corrections Canada and our Armed Forces rendering jobs even harder to come by, and fewer of the public services Canadians and their families rely on.
Federal public service workers have seen all this before. Cuts, deregulation, and privatization will do nothing to help working people. Instead, Canada’s pandemic recovery will grind to a halt.
Under the Harper government, Erin O’Toole also voted for legislation that attacked workers, their unions, and collective bargaining rights. He voted for a law giving the Conservatives the power to unilaterally remove sick leave provisions from PSAC members’ collective agreements and impose different short and long-term sick leave plans.
He voted for an omnibus budget bill that rolled back negotiated wage increases for PSAC members working at CRA and put limits on the rates of pay that could be negotiated in the federal public service.
He voted for legislation that took away important rights to a fair collective bargaining process, limiting the right to strike and allowing the government to decide unilaterally who could take job action.
Vote for candidates that support workers
Canadians need a government that respects workers’ Charter right to join a union, uphold access to free and fair collective bargaining, and make sure that workers have access to fair labour standards in their workplaces. They need a recovery that’s rooted in putting people first by making investments in the public services Canadians rely on to care for each other – not by cutting spending on the backs of public service workers.
None of these things are in the Conservative platform. Erin O’Toole is going to pick up where Stephen Harper left off.
We can’t let that happen.