At least four people in the territory lost their jobs this past year because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cuts to environment spending and there are more cuts coming, says the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Environment Canada cut 700 jobs in August 2011 and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cut more than 400 in December, PSAC national president John Gordon told a Whitehorse news conference Thursday.
Gordon was in Whitehorse this week to release one of the alliance’s national ads, produced to spread awareness of the issue.
The main character in the campaign – which targets the environment and fisheries as well as search and rescue – is a big, giant squirrel.
“It’s absurd,” said Gordon. And that’s the point.
What Harper is proposing is absurd, he said. It’s the same as asking someone to starve their own children so they can pay off their mortgage.
“Of course no one likes deficits, but asking Canadians to sacrifice essential public services, in order to bring about deficit reduction to zero, doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
The squirrel ads are called the “third choice” campaign.
“It’s about the absurdity of telling Canadians there are only two choices for moving forward. We can keep a service that Canadians depend upon or you can have a strong economy,” said Gordon. “Canadians deserve both – a third choice.”
The ad launched in Whitehorse on Thursday shows an environment worker releasing fish back into a pristine stream.
When he leaves the stream, he is confronted by the big, giant squirrel which eventually throws the worker’s fishing net into the water and kicks his bucket.
The cuts, which are expected to affect all departments, will be severely felt in Northern Canada, said Gordon.
The union predicts about 300 federal jobs will be cut, just in the North, after the next budget is dropped.
And that will hurt women the most, said Lorraine Rousseau, chair of the union’s Whitehorse Regional Women’s Committee.
Women make up more than half of the public sector, she said. They fare better than in the private sector. They benefit from higher rates of pay, pay equity, pensions and better reporting systems for things such as sexual harassment.
But Harper has proven women aren’t his top priority, Rousseau said.
She points to the gun registry as a recent example. It was proven the registry reduced the rates of domestic violence and yet it was abolished, she said.
The point of the absurd, giant squirrel ads is just to make people aware, said Gordon.
Right now, that is all the alliance can do, said Julie Docherty, the union’s regional executive vice-president for the North.
“We’re left in limbo,” she said. “We’re really between a rock and a hard place because we haven’t received any information from the government to help our members through this.
“The first step, where we’re going to get an answer – and it’s probably going to be a bomb – is through the federal budget.”
“They’re doing everything behind closed doors,” added Gordon.
The reality of the alliance’s grim warnings have already proven true in the Yukon.
In August 2011, there was a spill of an unknown substance in the Yukon River behind Boston Pizza.
After a buck-passing match between Environment Canada and Environment Yukon, it was discovered the person who should have been responsible for looking after it – the Yukon emergency planning and spill co-ordinator with Environment Canada – did not exist.
The position had been vacant for roughly 18 months.
As of this week, the position had still not been filled, confirmed Henry Lau, a spokesperson for the federal department.
After what has now been a two-year vacancy, the department has “made a number of offers to various people,” said Lau in an email.
“We are in the process of hiring a new staff member for the Yukon office who would work primarily on environmental assessments as well as provide support during emergencies,” he said. “(We) are working to have a permanent staff member in place soon.”
Despite the department’s efforts to fill the position, Docherty is not reassured.
“There’s already been layoffs in the public service and again, the budget hasn’t been dropped,” she said. “When that comes, we’re going to feel the true impact of it. The hiring of that one person was to fill a vacancy.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at