Pink slips for government workers?

Traffic is blurred as it passes in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington St. in downtown Ottawa Tuesday, May 24, 2011.



OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is planning to swing a Paul Bunyan-sized axe through the public service that would leave stacks of government workers piled on the sidewalk.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - a left-leaning think tank - says in order for Flaherty to balance the books by 2014-15, federal departments would have to chop 40,000 workers from a bureaucracy that has bulged by the same number under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's watch.

Those workers would be in addition to 40,000 others who are expected to sail off into retirement in the next few years or through others forms of attrition.

The combined total would represent about one-third of public sector workers, and would severely cripple the delivery of services, says David Macdonald, a research associate with the centre.

"I'd be pretty concerned if you have a job in the public service, if you want a job in the public service," Macdonald said. "This is not a good time for you."

Monday's federal budget announced $11 billion in cuts ending in 2015-16, when the government predicts a $4.2 billion surplus.

A cabinet review led by Treasury Board President Tony Clement this fall is expected to trim the fat on $80 billion in program spending. Flaherty says some programs are destined for the wood chipper, but won't provide specifics until the 2012 budget.

He said Monday it's up to the private sector to provide jobs, not government.

Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation says entire departments should be bulldozed and labuor laws rewritten to disarm public sector unions from standing in the way.

"The public service should be serving the people, not their own greedy interests," he says.

Unions, meanwhile, are digging in for a fight and are warning Canadians their standard of living would be threatened if the public service is castrated.

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees suggests the government is lying when it says it can shrink the federal workforce through retirements because Treasury Board data says otherwise.

"The Harper government has been saying that attrition will allow the government to avoid sending anyone home unwillingly. But the numbers don't add up," says association president Claude Poirier.

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