B.C. government to shed 11,500 jobs

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Provincial government makes deepest public cuts in Canadian history

VICTORIA (CP) ?The B.C. government plans to make the deepest public service cuts in Canadian history ?up to 11,550 jobs or one-third of government workers ?over the next three years.

Finance Minister Gary Collins said Tuesday the Liberal government's so-called workforce adjustment strategy will be sweetened with buyouts and early retirement packages, but could include up to 6,550 layoffs.

Opposition and labour leaders called the cuts a disaster for the province, saying they are deeper than previous restraint programs instituted by Alberta, Ontario and Ottawa.

"What (Collins) is proposing to do in B.C. is cut deeper than even (Ontario premier) Mike Harris and Alberta's Ralph Klein, " said Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour president.

"Those cuts in Alberta and Ontario were brought in at a time when the economy was growing," he said. "Collins is bringing in massive cuts at a time when the economy is in a massive downturn."

George Heyman, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union president, said the cuts jeopardize the health and safety of British Columbians who depend on government workers to protect children at risk, keep highways safe and ensure there is clean drinking water.

"For our members it's devastating that one out of every three of them could be put out of work," he said. "It's just a very bad day for B.C."

Harris cut 22 per cent in Ontario. Klein hit Alberta with a 20 per cent across-the-board cut and Ottawa cut 25 per cent.

Collins said the cuts are difficult, but the province faces a growing deficit ?$2 billion this year ?and the government needs to control spending.

He said he will issue a financial quarterly report Thursday that includes a projection of a still-growing deficit. Collins would not reveal the new deficit estimate.

"Our government, as promised, is doing things differently," he said. "We are moving away from trying to be all things to all people and instead looking at what government is doing, what it should be doing and what it can do better."

But thousands of workers ?more than 6,500 over three years in the worst-case scenario ?will start receiving layoff notices by the end of March.

Some of the cuts will be accomplished through attrition and by not filling jobs that are currently vacant, Collins said.

Employees whose age and years of service add up to 80 will be eligible for early retirement, plus an incentive payment of six months' salary, he said.

The government expects up to 1,700 workers will take that package, which is identical to the one offered by the former NDP government in 1996.

Other B.C. civil servants can accept buyouts of up to 12 months' salary, based on three weeks' pay for each year of service. About 800 workers are expected to take that deal, Collins said.

Employees facing layoff will have access to transition services, including counselling and job search assistance, he said.

The province has the equivalent of 35,000 full-time jobs and needs to reduce the workforce by 23 to 33 per cent, Collins said.

The government hopes to save about $800 million over three years with the cuts.

"We need to focus our resources on the core services government provides and deliver those services in the most cost effective and efficient way possible," said Collins. "This is not a process that we are taking lightly but it is a process that is necessary."

Joy MacPhail, New Democratic Party leader, said the cuts threaten government programs that protect B.C.'s seniors, forests and land base.

"This is a devastating day for B.C.," she said. "I feel our most vulnerable children are at risk."

British Columbia set a precedent in Canada for government cuts with its workforce adjustment, MacPhail said.

"It is going to hurt individuals," Collins said. "It is not certainly in the short-term going to spur the economy."

Sinclair said the 25 per cent tax the Liberals offered all British Columbians and the coming government job and service cuts are fuelling an economic meltdown.

"This is so far from what we were promised," he said. "This is despicable. The last thing we need is 10,000 layoffs."

Collins said the tax cuts were needed to stimulate investment and consumer confidence.
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2001-11-21 -04:00
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