By Daniel MacEachern and James MacLeod
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
The federal government is chopping up to 400 Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard jobs as the department gets hit with its second round of cuts in six months.
Details of the cuts are still filtering out, but already based on some specifics, critics are saying mariners’ lives will be put at risk.
A department official confirmed on May 17 that 400 positions will be cut across the country, part of a plan to save $79.3 million from the department. The Public Service Alliance of Canada warns regional fisheries offices will close, and the number of regional coast guard centres will be reduced from five to three.
Department spokeswoman Erin Filliter, from federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield’s office, said employees have been informed that their positions may be affected.
“The department informed employees across the country . . . about some changes that are happening in the department to save Canadians $79.3 million, and as a result there are changes to the structure and organization of the department across the country,” she said. Filliter said she couldn’t provide a regional breakdown of where positions are being cut, but said they are “proportional across the country,” adding that a worker receiving a notice that his or her job is affected may not necessarily be out of work but could be moved to another position within the department.
Already, the cuts are sparking strong reactions. West coast Liberal
Gerry Byrne MP Gerry Byrne said he’s spoken to several employees in the St. Anthony coast guard radio service, and he’s confirmed the St. Anthony operation has been shuttered.
“Lives will be lost as a result of this decision,” Byrne said. “This is an incredibly dire and serious situation the Government of Canada has created.”
Byrne said the St. Anthony radio service takes calls from fishermen and other vessels in some of the most dangerous waters in Canada. He said more calls are routed through St. Anthony than anywhere else in Canada.
New Democrat MHA Christopher Mitchelmore, who represents St. Anthony, was also hearing early word about the cuts. He echoed Byrne’s comments, saying that the service reductions will jeopardize mariners’ safety.
“This is putting people’s lives at risk if those cuts are put there,” Mitchelmore said. “It seems a little bit rushed and misguided.”
More broadly, the cuts follow a similar amount announced in December.
This time around, 1,072 notices went out to employees warning them their positions may be affected, with 763 of those going to Canadian Coast Guard workers, according to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents the bulk of workers who received notices today. Jeannie Baldwin, the union’s executive vice-president for the Atlantic region, called the cuts devastating.
“Nothing surprises me anymore with this federal government,” she said. “There’s not one department that’s immune, not even one community that’s not going to be affected with the cuts that this government is bringing down.”
The coast guard’s regional centres are being reduced from five to three. The government isn’t saying yet which offices will be closed, but rumours started flying as news of the cuts came out, with reports that the St. John’s and Dartmouth, N.S., regional centres will be amalgamated.
The government will also contract out the at-sea observer program, which puts a Fisheries and Oceans observer on board vessels to monitor quota compliance.
“There’s a reason that you have a different hand to oversea the fish catches and the fish stocks. You need some of that independence,” said Baldwin.
She added the union plans to fight back, and is asking for Canadians’ help.
“What we’re saying to the general public is they have to speak out. These cuts are going to be devastating, not only to families, not only to businesses, but also to communities,” she said.