OTTAWA — The country could see seniors left in the cold, fisherman stranded on cliffs and unsafe food getting to stores if the Conservative government proceeds with billions in spending cuts, public servants warned Wednesday.
Though thousands of civil servants could face layoffs after next week’s federal budget, they said their worry isn’t about saving their own jobs.
“It’s about public safety,” said Merv Wiseman, a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Coast Guard.
The Conservatives aim to slash between $4 and $8 billion a year in government spending to erase the deficit by 2015-2016. The last budget called for expenditures of just over $270 billion with a deficit of about $33 billion.
While the focus is on cutting program spending, jobs connected to those programs will disappear and one estimate has said as many as 60,000 positions could be at risk.
Wiseman joined union leaders, the head of a veterans’ organization and front-line government service employees at an emotional news conference Wednesday that saw workers plead for the government to think before it acts.
They said cuts already made to veterans’ services, food safety inspectors and Service Canada — which manages seniors’ pensions — are putting people at risk.
Inuit hunter Todd Broomfield said he could have died if search and rescue teams off the coast of Labrador hadn’t been able to respond quickly last year when his boat ran ashore.
Now, the government is co-ordinating those services out of Halifax in a bid to save money.
“Nobody knows when you’re going to run into trouble,” said Broomfield, his eyes brimming with tears as he recounted being flown to safety.
“Surely, our government can afford to keep a marine rescue centre in St. John’s that provides such a valuable service to the people who make a living in this harsh environment.”
The cuts to the rescue centre came after a spending review of several departments in the lead-up to this year’s government-wide cuts.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada wants the government to put further cuts on hold until it reviews the social and economic impact of those already underway.
The union also wants the Conservatives to explain how they’ll tell people what programs are ending.
“We’re going to see services eliminated, but no one will know about it until you try and go to use those services,” said PSAC President John Gordon.
While some detail about program cuts may come in next week’s budget, it’s likely going to be months before the full extent is known.
But the government says the budget also won’t be a guillotine chopping thousands of jobs in one go.
A spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said there is a responsible plan.
“We are not surprised that self-serving union bosses would once again tout a plan to raise taxes, hike spending and increase the size of government,” Sean Osmar said in an email.
“Our government has remained focused on a low-tax plan that reflects the priorities of Canadians — jobs and economic growth. Our responsible plan makes government leaner and more affordable; it will boost the economic recovery and will be good for job creation.”