Environment Canada shedding almost 800 jobs to save money

OTTAWA — It will be a long three months for many Environment Canada employees.

OTTAWA — It will be a long three months for many Environment Canada employees.

That’s how long they will have to wait before they know what is in store for them as the department looks at cutting hundreds of positions to save money.

Union representatives say they got word this week from Environment Canada that 776 positions are on the chopping block.

That’s around 11 per cent of the department’s workforce.

Among those affected are biologists, chemists, meteorologists, computer scientists, engineers and communications staff.

Around 476 workers will be shuffled to other jobs within the department, a spokesman for Environment Minister Peter Kent said.

“So the union’s saying that there’s 776 jobs (will be lost). That is absolutely false,” John Morris told The Canadian Press.

“These employees are currently employed at a number of different areas located across the country. So how many people will lose their job? Well, it’s difficult to predict exact numbers.”

Another 300 or so people will be put on a so-called surplus list and offered positions at Environment Canada, moved to another department or simply let go.

The department has 90 days to draw up this list. Once that’s done, some employees will have a set amount of time to accept new jobs at Environment Canada or elsewhere.

Bill Pynn, the national president of the Union of Environment Workers, said he doubts people on the surplus list will actually land new jobs.

“The departments are not going to be able to absorb Environment Canada employees,” Pynn said.

“The challenges that Environment Canada has, as small as it is, the larger ones are also going to have challenges. So I think eventually they’re going to turn into actual layoffs.”

Environmental groups blasted the move.

“We should not be surprised Environment Canada is the first department to face the axe,” the Sierra Club said in a release.

“We have all seen the vindictiveness of the Harper government and no department has presented more of problem, nor stripped away more of the contrived moderate veneer of Stephen Harper’s government, than Environment Canada. So no one should be surprised he would gut it at the first opportunity.”

Treasury Board President Tony Clement also weighed in on the cuts. He said the department’s decision to eliminate the positions had nothing to do with marching orders from the Conservative government for belt-tightening within the bureaucracy.

“It was not a decision that is part of what I’m doing in terms of strategic and operation review,” Clement said.

“That was a decision of Environment Canada.”

Clement noted 11,000 people leave the public service annually through normal attrition, whether by retirement, switching jobs or for other reasons.

The axe is falling at Environment Canada just as the Conservatives announced the creation of a new federal agency designed to find savings in information technology systems.

The effort is part of the Conservative government’s commitment to trim billions in federal spending and balance the books by 2014.