Leef passes the buck on cuts

Yukon MP Ryan Leef says to not blame him for job cuts being felt across the territory. Conservative members told federal officials how much to cut.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef says to not blame him for job cuts being felt across the territory.

Conservative members told federal officials how much to cut. But it’s up to individual departments to pick what jobs go, Leef said during an interview on Thursday.

Back in March, when the Conservative government announced its plan to cut more than 19,000 jobs over the next three years, Leef praised the proposed budget and promised that when it came to job cuts, with his former employer the RCMP at least, frontline services provided to the public would not see changes.

But when it came to cutting nearly a third of Parks Canada’s staff in the territory, for example, the frontline will be affected.

Starting next summer, Parks’ staff will no longer conduct search and rescue operations in Kluane National Park. Visitors will have to give themselves unguided tours of the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4. And in the winter, they’ll have to break their own trail on ski paths now maintained by the federal department.

“It was up to the departments’ responsibility to provide the programs and services that they felt that they could make adjustments to,” Leef said. “I certainly said that I hoped the departments would look at the efficiencies, find out where they could achieve efficiencies in operations or administration, with limited to no effect on the frontline service.”

Parks Canada did trim jobs and salaries in management and administration, said Anne Morin, field unit superintendant for the Yukon. But the targets were just too big to spare frontline staff, she said.

The department also had to follow their agreement with the union. That means contract workers are cut first.

The cuts were also guided by the department’s plan to focus on the most popular places, in the most popular seasons, said Morin.

Summer is the peak tourism season, so ski trails are out. The S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 may draw visitors, but they attract fewer than Dawson City.

And only one serious incident happens every two years at Kluane National Park, so visitors will have to assume responsibility to better plan their hikes and develop their survival skills.

But there is still a year until these changes are felt, said Leef. That’s enough time for him to help correct any cuts that Yukoners can’t live with, he said.

“We have to contribute to returning Canada to balanced budgets, Yukon has to play its role at that,” he said. “But on the same token, I don’t expect the Yukon to throw itself on the sword. If we have a legitimate case to be made that puts us in a unique and difficult position that’s above and beyond what other regions in the country are doing to contribute, then I’ll put that case forward and I’ll fight for it.

“Obviously, today, you’re going to have an emotional reaction to what’s going on and one which I completely understand. But I do need to look at the complete picture of this. It’s going to take a little bit of time but I’m certainly committed to moving forward with that.”

That’s probably little comfort to those who have lost their jobs. This summer, services to be cut will be handled by staff juggling other duties. The people who lost their jobs will already be gone by next year, said Morin.

Jobs cuts aren’t the only controversy created by the Conservative’s massive, 420-page omnibus budget bill. There’s also a plan to “streamline” environmental assessments in places where federal and local assessment bodies overlap.

The Yukon changed that years ago when it signed the Umbrella Final Agreement and created the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and Board.

The territory’s review regime won’t be affected, said Leef – at least not directly and not right away.

“I think there are some mining and development companies that would like to see some changes,” said Leef. “Now, all of a sudden, every other province will have that one-review, one-timeframe process that will actually start working a little bit quicker than in the Yukon.”

But the assessment board continues to receive “nothing but favourable reviews,” said Stephen Mills, chair of the board.

Bigger projects take longer. But Mills is confident there will be no changes to how projects are assessed.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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