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Friday, August 12, 2005

Transformation of federal civil service long overdue

I must confess my jaw dropped when I learned earlier this week that the Treasury Board Department in Ottawa has been quietly been working on a plan that would see the elimination of 41,000 of approximately 291,000 federal civil service jobs.

Until recently no government would have had the temerity to contemplate such a move for fear of alienating Quebec voters. But now with a majority of Quebecers set to yet again vote for the Bloc Quebecois Liberal strategists are now focussed on picking up seats in key battleground provinces like British Columbia.

Extensive polling has told the Martin government that British Columbians want more money for health care, more money for our long suffering military and money to improve our national highway systems. But we do not want to pay more in taxes, in fact we already feel over taxed and would like some federal tax relief.

We also feel very alienated from the federal civil service in Ottawa which is predominantly white and francaphone. This contrasts sharply with the ethnic diversity of British Columbia where residents are far more likely to speek Cantonese or Punjabi than French.

One move the federal government has already commited to is relocating the Canadian Tourism Centre (CTC) from Ottawa to Vancouver. For those of us living on the westcoast such a move seemed to be a no brainer but that did not stop indignant howls of protest coming from Ottawa area MPs.

But what we want to see even more is a reduction in what is widely perceived to be a bloated civil service. Certainly trimming 41,000 positions is a good start. Treasury Board analysts conservatively estimate this would save $11 billion over a five year period. Best of all many of these job reducations can be achieved by going to shared services model and eliminating the duplication that currently occurs.

But beyond a much needed trimming of our federal civil service there needs to be a new model where our civil service better reflects the make up of our country. That means moving from the old bilingual model to one which is multi-lingual and multi-ethnic.

It means placing less emaphasis on being fluent in both official languages and more on being fluent in one, passable in the other and bonus points if you are fluent in a third language. In significantly widening the pool of talent upon which they have to draw, Ottawa would also emerge with a civil serive that is far more capable and in tune with the needs and aspirations of all Canadians.

This column was published in the August 12, 2005 Vancouver Edition of 24 hrs, www.24hrs.ca

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