Parks cuts 49 vacant Banff jobs

By: Cathy Ellis

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jun 07, 2012 06:00 am

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Parks Canada has eliminated 49 vacant positions on top of other job losses in Banff National Park and employees are being warned not to publicly talk about the federal government’s budget cuts – or face disciplinary action.

That figure had not been previously publicly revealed, but the elimination of the 49 vacant positions is on top of 34 other “impacted” positions in the Banff field unit alone.

Bill Fisher, Parks Canada’s director general for western and northern Canada, said many of the positions have been vacant for a number of years and are “no longer necessary.”

“In some cases, they were created for specific capital projects and now those projects are finished, or they may have been associated with funding that came from other sources, such as pine beetles, and the project is finished and the funding is no longer available,” he said.

“In other cases, they were positions eliminated just to make sure we could address our budget reductions and to make sure we can absorb salary increases that might be associated with negotiating and settling on a new collective agreement.”

The Harper government cut $29 million from Parks Canada’s budget as part of an overall plan to eliminate 19,000 jobs across the various federal government departments and agencies in a bid to save $5.2 billion.

Across Parks Canada, 1,689 employees were given notice their jobs will be affected or eliminated. Public servants who received “affected” notices won’t necessarily lose their jobs, but in many cases their seasons and hours of work will be shortened, while “surplus” means their jobs are definitely being eliminated.

In the Banff field unit, 34 notices were sent to employees, including 22 affected and 12 surplus, of which 10 were voluntary. On top of that, 49 vacant positions were eliminated.

Of those vacant positions, 18 are from Banff’s resource conservation branch, which does include positions that were held by people who moved over to Banff’s armed law enforcement unit.

“I am not going to give you specifics, but it could have been scientists, technicians, people in dispatch, visitor safety – a broad sweep of the organization,” Fisher said.

In a form letter generated from Ottawa, titled “Duty of loyalty and freedom of expression”, all Parks Canada employees have been warned against speaking out about budget cuts and jobs losses at meetings or through the media – or face disciplinary action.

The form letter was sent out by Parks Canada’s field superintendents to the employees in their jurisdiction on behalf of the agency’s CEO Alan Latourelle. It reminds employees of their obligations regarding public expression, whether through the media, including social media, large meetings or in other forums.

“This is of particular significance with respect to the streamlining measures announced in the most recent federal budget,” said acting Banff superintendent Sheila Luey in the note. Her name was on the email sent to Banff’s employees.

“I am aware that during this time of significant transition, the concept of loyalty can have a very particular meaning. However, as employees of the public sector, our duty is to support the elected government.”

According to the letter, the duty of loyalty to the agency is reflected in the Parks Canada Agency code of ethics and applies to “all members of the Parks Canada team at all times.

“The duty of loyalty includes the duty to refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada when speaking as an employee of the Parks Canada Agency. Breaching the duty of loyalty may lead to disciplinary action,” Luey said.

That said, Parks Canada says the duty of loyalty is not absolute.

“Open criticism may be acceptable under exceptional circumstances,” Luey said. “To determine whether public criticism is acceptable, the duty of loyalty must be balanced against other interests, such as freedom of expression.”

The letter says the agency recognizes some employees are either union officers or are designated spokespeople for the union, giving them a “much greater scope of freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, Fisher said, Parks Canada will have to focus on its highest priorities, but he said there would be some projects that will need to be deferred or halted.

He indicated projects involving bison and caribou reintroduction were still on the books, as was a joint Parks Canada-Canadian Pacific Railway project aimed at reducing grizzly bear mortality on the railway tracks.

“By and large, we’re still committed to investing funds on all projects, but we will have to see where the highest priorities are. We’re looking at all the projects across the country to see which ones we can defer,” he said.

“We haven’t made final decisions on what the investments will be for each and every project for this fiscal year; we’re still sorting out details so it’s a little premature to say.”


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