Hon. Percy E. Downe:
After the 2015 election, I wrote the members of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, highlighting the deterioration of federal employment in the region. For colleagues’ information, between 2008 and 2017, 1,513 federal public service jobs were eliminated in Atlantic Canada. During the very same time frame, federal public service jobs in the Ottawa area increased by 4,942.
Minister, as you’re aware, historically, one third of the federal public jobs were in Ottawa and the rest, two thirds, were spread across Canada. Since 2000, that percentage changed from 36.4 to 42.2 in 2016.
After I wrote that letter originally, the Atlantic MPs invited me to talk about options and what the government could do, and I believe, minister, you were at that meeting.
I followed up two years later, in the fall of 2017, where I indicated that the pace had slowed considerably, but still 100 jobs were lost in the region. Again at the same time, 2015-17, federal employment in the greater Ottawa area increased by over 3,100 jobs.
As you know, this chamber is responsible for regional concerns, and this is a concern not only for the region of Atlantic Canada but the regions across Canada. The concern about the $900 million in lost wages over the last 10 years is significant, with those federal government jobs no longer in the region. As you know, the economy of Atlantic Canada doesn’t depend on federal government jobs, but meaningful economic development can only come from a healthy, balanced economy that respects and welcomes the role of a very robust private sector.
Considering the Government of Canada is the largest employer in Canada and the concentration of jobs continues in the National Capital Region, what steps are you and the government taking to address this problem?
Hon. Scott Brison, P.C., M.P., President of the Treasury Board and acting Minister of Democratic Institutions: Thank you very much, senator. I appreciate your question. As you know, this is an area in which I have a tremendous interest. I’ve been given the honour of serving the people of Kings—Hants, but broadly, Atlantic Canada, since June 2, 1997.
I believe very strongly that there are opportunities not just to create more jobs in regions in terms of government departments and agencies. That as an end in itself is meritorious, but I think, for the same reason we discussed earlier, the idea of diversity in decision-making bodies and government agencies leads to better results. I think putting decision makers closer to the people and resources affected by their decisions can also create better outcomes and better decisions.
I think information technology today, and digital technology, gives us more ability to decentralize than we’ve ever had before, and I think we can do it responsibly. I think when we see new agencies and new departments and new growth within the public sector in particular areas, and particularly new organizations, come to Treasury Board, it’s a great opportunity for Treasury Board to actually push departments and agencies each time in terms of why those jobs have to necessarily be here in the National Capital Region. Is there an opportunity potentially to consider other regions?
Treasury Board ministers and Treasury Board Secretariat are working together now, along with other ministers, to develop a policy framework whereby we can, on an ongoing basis, as departments and agencies, look to regions as opportunities to increase our investments and public service representation.
I can also say that when I was part of Paul Martin’s government, we made a significant investment in modernizing the superannuate Pension Centre in Shediac, New Brunswick, and that is one of the finest pension centres or call centres that the Government of Canada operates anywhere. I’m proud we made that investment, and I’m proud of the work they do every single day.