The war on the civil service -

The war on the civil service

Pensions and layoffs are just one front in a long-brewing battle


The war on the civil service

Ever since Stephen Harper anointed Stockwell Day as his cost-cutter-in-chief last week, the Prime Minister’s Office has been going out of its way to highlight the significance of shifting Day to head the Treasury Board in an otherwise ho-hum cabinet shuffle. Said to be among Harper’s favourite ministers, Day is now cast as the PM’s Dr. No—the man to stare down resistance to new austerity measures. As part of Ralph Klein’s cabinet in Alberta back in the nineties, Day pinned a loonie to his lapel (evoking Ayn Rand, who once pinned a gold dollar sign to hers) and oversaw thousands of public-sector layoffs. In Ottawa, a beleaguered public service is paying attention.

Within a week of Day’s swearing-in, 18 federal government unions gathered in Ottawa for a two-day meeting to map out a strategy against the anticipated assault. They expect the Tories’ first target will be the bureaucracy’s famously generous pensions—what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty calls their “handsome arrangements.” Flaherty has ruled out many other options for deflating a bloated deficit. He’s said the Conservatives will never raise taxes or cut transfers to the provinces to balance the books. Instead, they’ll rely on economic growth and if it’s not enough, they’ll cut “other programs.” Up against one of the largest deficits in the country’s history, civil-sector union leaders are girding for a fight.

The public-sector payroll is only the latest front in a war brewing behind the scenes between Tories and bureaucrats. Some observers point to the government’s attack on Richard Colvin, the diplomat who raised concerns about treatment of Afghan detainees, as the clearest sign of friction. In the wake of the Colvin affair, reports of extreme measures to rein in bureaucrats have come to light. Senior civil servants tell of having their pens taken away to block them from note-taking, and of meetings proceeding routinely with no written record. According to Liberal Sen. Roméo Dallaire, more famous for his peacekeeping service as a general in Rwanda, a “draconian” current of partisanship now runs through Ottawa, quite unlike anything he has seen in his many years in the capital. Dallaire told Maclean’s the “brutal” atmosphere runs counter to the public-sector ethic of transparency and objectivity.

The government’s line is, there’s no problem. “Under this government we pride ourselves on the fact the public service does a good job and does so in a non-partisan way,” says Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the PM. But the discontent bubbled up to the surface last summer, when Ottawa’s Embassy magazine revealed a controversy within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade over language guidelines handed down to civil servants. The new rules were met with push-back from senior Foreign Affairs officials and leaks to the media. Among other changes, the word “humanitarian” was excised from the term “international humanitarian law”—“as though scratching out the term somehow makes it go away,” former ambassador and erstwhile Mulroney speech writer Paul Heinbecker told Maclean’s. “Gender equality” is now “equality of men and women,” while “child soldier” has become the more anodyne, and vague, “children in armed conflict.” (This, says Dallaire, who started the Child Soldiers Initiative, devoted to ending the practice of using children for war, was expressly designed to release Omar Khadr, Canada’s most famous child soldier, from protocols.)

But it is entirely within a government’s purview to make such changes, as Lawrence Cannon told Embassy last year. Some of the changes, Cannon said, were simple semantics; others were a matter of Canada’s foreign policy direction. And if bureaucrats don’t like it, he added, they’re free to leave.

The underlying fear of many mandarins is that they will be pushed into partisan behaviour. But on this score, Donald Savoie, a professor of public administration at the University of Moncton, says the Harper government is no worse than any that came before it. Governments, both Liberal and Tory, have been guilty of that through Canadian history. The only difference is that Harper was elected after musing publicly about how a Liberal civil service and Liberal-appointed judiciary might restrain Conservative tendencies. Apparently they haven’t. Last week, a trio of recently fired watchdogs—Paul Kennedy, Peter Tinsley, and Linda Keen—the clearest evidence of a chill in government relations, visited a prorogued Parliament to complain that the Tories are “at war” with the government’s independent tribunals.

There is another issue: the line between partisan interests and government funds. Some suggest that respect for that boundary—evident in the early years of the Tory minority—eroded with the exit of Harper’s first chief of staff, Ian Brodie, in the spring of 2008. That fall, the launching of a $34-million government advertising campaign, paid for by taxpayers, irked the civil service enough to prompt another round of media leaks, this time from sources within the Privy Council Office, previously famous for its discretion.

Half of the country’s civil servants report facing “undue political interference,” according to a new survey by the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) at Queen’s University. And that’s just one of a series of complaints from the civil service. Report co-author Tom Axworthy, who spent years in the civil service starting in the 1960s, says that over past 15 years, the sector has fallen victim to “musical chairs” management. No one stays at their jobs long enough to learn their files; there isn’t any institutional memory or anyone to mentor or train new recruits who flounder under serial bosses.

Depression among civil servants is at a ‘crisis’ point, as is a brain drain As of the fall, fully half of the 22 core deputy ministers in Canada had been at their jobs for less than two years. Nine had been there less than a year—a “chaotic, pick-up-the-file-and-run, everybody-on-the-march” way of running things, says Axworthy. Compare that with the Harvard Business School’s list of “Top 100 CEOs,” says public policy commentator David Eaves: of the top 10, seven had been at the job for 10 years. The others had put in at least eight. “Nobody just showed up, and did a two-year stint as CEO.” Deputy ministers aren’t exactly CEOs who run the show; still, years on the job count.

And a good relationship between politicians and senior public service, says Axworthy, “is the nub of the enterprise. If you’re a minister you want confidence that the man you’re talking to knows everything there is to know about agriculture.” At one time, he says, “ministers had a huge amount of trust in their deputies, cause their deputies knew those files cold.”

That atmosphere of trust, he adds, has disappeared. And Eaves says it’s not clear ministers actually dislike having deputy ministers who don’t know their files. “This shifts the relative power balance in those conversations, meaning they can’t get pushed around by strong deputy ministers,” he says. Axworthy says he “can’t conceive” how the civil service can implement big, serious projects under the present system: “You start it, and you leave, and someone else takes it over. In the course of a year and a half, you have six, seven, eight project managers; by the time it is approved, the project is out of date,” he explains. “It’s managed to fail.”

Not all observers agree. Sure, the system is under a lot of stress, says David Zussman, an expert in public sector management at the University of Ottawa. “That said, the Harper government, particularly under Kevin Lynch, has made special effort to keep people at their jobs as long as they could.”

One-third of public servants nonetheless reported working for three different bosses in three years, according to the CSD study. And the relentless churn takes a toll on workers. Depression among public servants is the country’s “biggest public health crisis,” says Bill Wilkerson, founder of the non-profit Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health. Seventy-five per cent of federal executives report burnout, and mental health claims account for 45 per cent of all disability claims.

Of course, what civil servants see as evidence of their tortured state is seen by many outside government—staring down layoffs and delayed retirement—as evidence of a sector cruelly out of touch with economic and workplace realities. Rarely, in fact, has the disconnect between the public and private sector, which has borne the brunt of the current downturn, been felt so keenly.

But if Canadians don’t care that civil servants are unhappy, maybe we should because of another crisis in the bureaucracy: the brain drain. Although their numbers have soared—by more than 40 per cent over the previous 12 years—the public sector is “certainly not” getting a fair share of Canada’s best and brightest, says Peter Aucoin, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University. The “bright lights” who do land tend to jump ship after a brief stay, says an insider. In one competitive hiring initiative designed to lure exceptional graduate students, he says, the bulk of students in a cohort year left the sector after 18 months. After three years, none remained. Many question if the others, who “came for the parental leave, and stayed for the pensions,” as it goes, have the mettle to innovate and take much-needed risks to modernize the sector.

Public-sector union bosses bracing for a showdown in Ottawa are likely aware the enemy extends beyond the Hill. Around the world, snarls of hostility are beginning to be levelled against fatted states. But they’re not likely to go gently, and Heinbecker, for one, thinks civil servants have got ammo better than even the threat of strike. “If the Harper government thinks they had leaks before, and now they’re going to start playing with pensions—well, they ain’t seen nothing yet.”


The war on the civil service

  1. "The war on the civil service"

    Er, what war? Layoffs? That hasn't happened since the Chretien years. Pensions? Well they are gold plated and above private sector levels. One union chick going to bat for her fellow union members, not coincidentally mostly chicks, that's all this article is. Freeze their salaries; if they don't like it they will quit and others will fill the void very quickly, which is how job markets are supposed to work.

    Yes, there is a class warfare in this country but the roles have been reversed: it is the wealthy unionized "workers", largely in the public sector, who are, with the help of their union buddies in the media, oppressing – indeed, extorting – the less affluent non-union majority. Your article should show more empathy for the over 33 million non-civil servants who are on the hook for artificially high labour costs in the federal government and less for the couple hundred thousand extortionists who are slowly but surely bankrupting this country.

    Save Canada: ban unions.

    • classy

      • "One union chick going…"

        At least the commentator made clearly there was no point in taking him or her seriously quickly.

    • What kind of increases do you think the Public Sector is getting? I received 1.5 percent this year. Government employees cannot win. The public hates us no matter what we do. Oh well.

    • "Gold Plated Pensions" Not quite.. What keeps getting me is the considerable amount of mis-information. If people don't know the facts, they should just keep quiet. I work for the federal public service for DND as a firefighter.
      I am very underpaid compared to any municipal firefighting job. I'm talking between 20-30 thousand dollars.
      Yes, I do know what I'm talking about because I read the facts. An average of 25,000 less/year over 35 years is $875,000

  2. I never understood the attack on pensions. I work in a white collar environment and had the identical pension there as I have with the government with one glaring exception…..the pension with the government is indexed. That aside, there is no difference between my pension with the government and pnsions I had with the petroleum or forest industry.

    My expectation is that in a wave of austerity measures I would lose this meaning I would have the same pension in the end.

    • Pension should not be the issue. MPs have the best pension of anyone anywhere in Canada. I don't see anyone on here complaining about that.

      The issue should be that public servants are lazy and too comfortable at best. There is no incentive to perform and deliver results and provide the services that canadians are asking for, that they deserve. Nowhere else in Canada would an employee be allowed to underperform the way the majority of public servants do.

      That needs to change and hopefully stockwell day will change that.

    • The "only" difference is the indexing? That's a HUGE difference.

  3. The federal civil service is bloated and inefficient. It's just a fact. Her is one simple example; while running my business I needed a replacement form to file my PST return. All I had to do was access the Provincial website and print a blank form. I also needed a replacement GST form. To get that I had to wait 14 minutes to leave a message that was "promptly" returned 24 hours later. The clerk passed on my request to the "forms generation" department which generated the form electronically and then passed it on to the "printing dept". The hard copy was then passed on to the "mailroom" and I recieved it seven days later. So, the PST form cost me a couple of minutes and the printing costs. The GST form cost the federal govt wages, printing costs, & mailing costs, and made me wait seven days.

    What a joke!

    • Try dealing with Telus. 7 days to get the thing you wanted isn't so bad.

    • It is not a fact. PARTS of the civil service are and they should be reformed based on the good parts. Passport Canada has had remarkable success with reform, I'd deal with the passport office any day over half the private companies I have to deal with.

      • Is this the same passport department that tells me that my Quebec govt issued birth certificate is no good? They say it was issued by the wrong dept. It says on it that it was issued by the "department de naissance". Sounds like the right place to me?

    • This is what the HST is supposed to fix. I'm sure it's on its way.

      • I fear that instead of adopting the more efficient practices of the PST dept, the HST will mean that the inefficient, bloated GST dept will get the work. No gain there. Higher taxes and inefficiency.

    • what is the frm number Fred?

      • what's a frm?


  4. Missing from most of these discussions is the that civil servants pay into the plan, and that a few years ago treasury board declared the pension fund to be in surplus and removed 30 billion (yes, billion) dollars from it.

    • And missing in your logic is who pays the civil service .

      • How does that affect Pensionner's point at all? Whether the money comes from the taxpayer or from the Martian Import/Export Cartel, is it right that 30 billion dollars of what was paid to them get taken away at the stroke of a pen?

        • That was surplus and yes, it belongs to the taxpayers of Canada since they are on the hook for any shortages and pay in more than the civil servants do to their pensions.

          • Shortages created by the theft from the fund — so if the taxpayers were entitled to the "surplus" they're also entitled to make up any shortfall. Aattacking these pensions is retroactively re-negotiating labour agreements (which the government feels are binding agreements when it suits them).

            By the way — the governmetn IS increasing contribution rates to make up for the shortfall created when they raided the fund —

  5. Seriously, the only reason people badmouth the government pensions is cause they don't have one – and you're right, we do pay into them as well AND we also pay taxes like everyone else. I feel the only reason we still have a pension like we do is because the Unions are there to protect them – maybe if Nortel would have been unionized they wouldn't have gone down in such a blaze??? The problem with the public service is that we are too top-heavy (too many managers with large salaries that don't do too much but go to meetings) – what we need is less higher-ups and more actual workers – and yes, contrary to popular belief – we do work – see, I'm doing this on my lunch 1/2 hour NOT an hour ;P Before people open up their big mouths and complain they should have their facts straight and maybe do some research so they don't look like fools and give other fools the wrong idea – IN SOLIDARITY BROTHERS AND SISTERS UNITE!!!!!

    • "maybe if Nortel would have been unionized they wouldn't have gone down in such a blaze???"

      Maybe if General Motors and Chrysler weren't unionized they wouldn't have gone down in such a blaze.

      • You took the words out of my mouth, sbt, except that I was going to use Fraser and Abitibi as examples where being unionized did not stop the reduction of their pensions due to banlruptcy.

    • Parts of Nortel (Northern Telecom) were unionized.

  6. Very good well written article.

    “If the Harper government thinks they had leaks before, and now they're going to start playing with pensions—well, they ain't seen nothing yet.”

    Yes …. now why. Stop and think., not to too many years ago the government (Big Business) opened the doors to early retirement and by doing so almost eliminated middle management. Work loads shifted down more than up. Then the private sector did the same forcing many to work from cradle to grave with no middle management to pass on experience. Should these pensions be attacked it would only fair to say so would the private sector ( you can take that to the bank) Then what OAS CCP and larger cut backs.

    Years ago Paul Martin ( Finance Minister) rose in our H of C and read his new Old Age Security Program …. the opposition ( Reform) went bonkers …. it died. I requested and received a copy and it I have one somewhere, then so does Harper & Co.

  7. Addendum to above

    Our civil servants at both levels of governments are very hard working people and provide for a very invaluable service under trying conditions. Think Canada is 5 1/2 times zones wide with only 33 million people and business hours are only 8 hrs per day in just one time zone. Staff is down yet when I have called (sure I had to wait) I have received good information and friendly assistance both levels. Is it perfect no. As mentioned if you think you qualify and want to put up with only a fraction of what was written above submit your resume.

    There is a cost for everything and government pensions are no less.

    PS. Canadian's Top 100 CEO's made 148 X the average wage last year how's that for a pension!

  8. Addendum #2

    And who pays Wall Street, Bay Street and Canada's CEO's the consumers and who are consumers …. "TAXPAYERS" are the lights on yet?

  9. This goes back a ways, but coming out of the recession of '92 didn't Brian Mulroney have a Bill going through Parliament to de-index federal public service pensions right before he handed the reins over to Kim Campbell sold to Canadians as a way to fight the deficit?

    I swear to God this country has been one big re-run for 30 years.

    • No, that was CPP (whatever it was called then). Not public service pensions.

  10. I recall they tried to de-index the old age pensions early in their first term, like 1985 or 86. It led to that famous news clip of that nice old lady lecturing Mulroney on the steps of the Parliament buildings.

    I just looked up what I was thinking of on google archive news. Bill C-55 in 1992 contained a provision to allow Cabinet to set the yearly increases for the public service pension plan rather than having it indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

  11. "Should these pensions be attacked it would only fair to say so would the private sector"

    They already have been. That's why the public service isn't going to get much sympathy on this front.

  12. The fact of the matter is that the indexed pension that government workers enjoy is the 'gold plated' issue that raises the hackles of the less fortunate stuck with fixed DC pensions or worse still DB pensions or worse again, no pensions at all except for the piddling CPP and OAS.

    If the indexing were removed, there would be less clambering for early retirement and less future liability for the taxpayer in funding these unsustainable pensions. And of course a lot less jealously

    • Yes and that is where they start because they have bigger fish to fry ……. OAS & CCP for everyone except Senators and MP's, but wait they will vote on themselves …. " All in favour of keeping our pensions and perks say aye! passed 290 to 18, the 18 is always the ones in shaky ridings. light on yet?

    • and what do you think government is going to do when they're finished with government worker pensions and there is still a deficit. Cuts to CPP and OAS.

      • Mathew, rather than severely annoy a major voting group(the baby boomers) by targetting them alone in reducing the deficit by cutting the OAS and CPP, they will spread the pain and mildly annoy everybody with general tax increases.

  13. Flaherty calls civil servants' pensions "handsome"….Well, let's just see how his pension and those of the other manservants of our Great Leader of the Republic of Zimbabwe of the North will fare once Canadians wake up from their democratic slumber in the next election and vote these Bush-wannabes out of the power they illegitimately hold. The Economist, the socialist rag our Great Leader reads disdaining Canadian press, calls Him a "ruthless tactician". I'm sure Canadians have other choice epithets for this disgustingly incompetent, Bonaparte whose "misunderestimation" of Canadians' intelligence is the epitome of hubris….

  14. It used to be that civil servants were paid somewhat less than for the same job in the private sector but they had better job security to compensate. It was a trade off.

    Since allowing government workers to unionize (big error as they have monopolies and consumers of their services have no alternatives) they have predictably used their strike weapon to boost their income including pay and benefits to on average 30-40% more than the private sector offers while job security is almost iron clad.

    Much of their superior situation comes from politicians caving in on cadillac benefits that are easier hidden from the taxpayer than actual salaries.

    There is no rational reason for such a huge discrepancy with the private sector to exist, just union ability to blackmail the public with strikes.

    The worst example is the right of many government workers to retire with full pension at age 55 while the rest of taxpayers have to work beyond 65 now to provide themselves with a livable pension as well as the Freedom 55 civil servants!

    • Don't let the facts get in the way of a good arguement. I would love to know where you get that 30-40% figure which is pure balony. That is as accurate as your statement concerning "the right of many government workers to retire with full pension at age 55". To do that you would have had to start uninterrupted service of 35 years at the age of 20, which happens very infrequently. Federal government workers can retire after 60 with 30 years service but take a penalty for every year they retire before the age of 65. They also pay more into this plan than the private sector.

    • I have worked for 20 years as a federal public servant and 10 years in the private sector and there was not much difference, except I went through wage controls for years and doubling of work loads during the defecit cutting years under Martin. My only consolation is that I don't have to live with the politicization of the civil servuice under Harper. At least the Liberals knew how to treat people and how to run a government. My friends who are still working are fleeing the poisoned environment in droves.

      The public service is an easy whipping boy especially with lots of mis-information floating around and people who think that as taxpayers thay should dictate what is appropriate remuneration for probably the most highly educated civil service in the world. What is needed is a pension plan to which Canadians can contribute regardless of their employer, such as an improved and expanded CCP. Otherwise anyone with a pension will contuinue to be bashed by the have-nots.

      • "people who think that as taxpayers thay should dictate what is appropriate remuneration for probably the most highly educated civil service in the world."

        Heaven forbid that the people paying for it get an input on how much they are prepared to pay for it. Also, more out of curisosity than anything else, is there any evidence to back up your statement about the level of education of our public service versus that of similar countries (US, western European countries)?

      • "What is needed is a pension plan to which Canadians can contribute regardless of their employer, such as an improved and expanded CCP" – Sue

        Yeah, I agree with that completely and I believe they are in discussion about doing something along those lines, just 30 years later than they should have started.

        I also believe as part of the expansion that you probably are thinking of is raising the pensional cap on the salary which is currently only about COL adjusted $43,000. That should be doubled. Also those who do not have a private pension plan with their employers(think most retail workers) that these people be given the option to pay extra into the CPP(given human nature only to think ahead by one paycheck, this may have to be complusory). So instead of paying about 5% of the cap, they pay double which will enhance their future CPP nicely. I wished they had this idea in force 30 years ago but that would be asking too much foresight of our politicians.

  15. Its unfortunate but the Prime Minister is generally correct. Simply put, where would you like your children to work. Contract, part-time, unsecure private employment with no benefits or government gravy.

    Maybe what is needed is a fundemental shift in Canada about many issues.

    • Many government workers hired for to handle the increased volume in employment insurance claims since 2008, have unsecured public employment. Part-time contracts that contain a sunset clause that means the time they put in on that contract, cannot be used to towards obtaining permanent full-time employment in the future. Hardly building up much of pension there. I say "where's the beef/"

  16. I have to agree with the comment that the public sector isn't necessarily attracting (or retaining) the best and brightest. I did an internship in Ottawa between my first and second years of MBA and was quite glad to leave at the end of it. Something needs to change in this regard if we're going to modernize the public service and drive innovation and efficiency.

    • 50+ years ago people aspired to a career in the civil service, and back then the pay was also worth aspiring to. Now people treat it like the job of last resort, but are largely unaware of how dramatically lower the pay is for a public sector employee versus a private sector one in the same industry. The government leverages this attitude to gouge at the money available from the civil service compensation packages.

      You're right. We don't attract the best and brightest anymore…and we don't retain those that become the best and brightest. We retain those who can't go anywhere else because they aren't qualified to do so, or won't go for reasons unrelated to the job. That's the big retention plan for the feds…we'll hire those who have no choice.

  17. From the downgrading of this comment with no rebuttal with facts, one can conclude the truth hurts.

    • Those "facts" are sound-bites. They're short enough to show up as talking points for the media, and for politicians trying to take advantage. Let's face it, there's a political party with a fiscal agenda…they have spent too much on "elect us again" projects and now need to do something to prove they're fiscal conservatives…so they've hired PR firms to generate a buzz…using massaged "facts" like you saw before as talking points.

      The truth is usually too complex for a sound-bite.

      Keep in mind the federation of independent business also thinks minimum wage is too high and unsustainable and can produce "facts" to prove it. They're a lobby group like any other…with an agenda and a lot of money. Special interest groups always do this sort of thing whether they're the Federation of Independent Business, or the "People with Alternative Lifestyles Want Equal Rights" group. I don't see anyone quoting "facts" from other special interest groups…just the ones they like.

  18. Giving the overpaid, underworked and totally pampered aristocrats posing as "public servants" a good swift kick in the ass and out the door can't come soon enough. It would be enough to make me actually vote for the Tories.

    • Some aristocrat I am, living in a bachelor suite, living cheque to cheque. No car, no expensive trips to Copenhagen to hold up any real action on saving the climate, no plates made of gold here, nor glasses of champagne. Two months off, because the Olympics are coming. I would vote for the Green Party if I thought it could get the Tories out.

  19. The closing statement of the above article:

    "Heinbecker, for one, thinks civil servants have got ammo better than even the threat of strike. “If the Harper government thinks they had leaks before, and now they're going to start playing with pensions—well, they ain't seen nothing yet.”"

    puts the vaunted professionalism of the civil service to the test. Canadians have elected this government and the civil service are in their employ. In the private sector, sabotage of one's boss because of labor negotiations is beyond the pale and can bring criminal proceedings.

    • In the private sector you have law and freedom of speach on your side. In the public sector we have more restrictions on what we can say and to whom. If you don't believe me, you can try to use the Access to Information Act that Harper gutted. Even if you wanted to see what we have to say…you'd not find it.

      At least in the private sector you can go to the shareholders.

  20. I am not a very articulate person, I can't give you statistics. I can only say that as a Public Servant I work hard for my salary. I've stayed pretty much at the same level of classification in my 27 years and when I retire in about 4 years I will get a pension, one that I paid for. Big bonuses, performance pay are not seen in the working class only in the executive class and guess what I don't like it either.

    Read the article again: baby boomers leaving and not being replaced, see if you'll get your services then. If you're bitching about long waits and voice mail now, wait til there are less of us.

    Contract out the services if you want. The salaries will be lower and there will be no pensions and benefits. Fine! Try and get the employee to care about your EI payments and other government paid services. You want the government services, you have to pay for it.

    I think those who are not employed with the PS of Canada wish they were!!!

    How about keeping your pompous criticism for the MP's who serve the upper ranks of the government of Canada, pensions being doled out to those who serve far less time than my 27 years.

    • The entire tone of your letter demonstrates what "service" people are likely to be getting from you. The fact that you personally didn't progress in your job is hardly a rebuttal of the point proven by statistics that government workers now get paid unjustifiably more for the same job in the private sector. That's probably true even of you because someone as bitter and disgruntled as your comment shows you to be would have been long gone otherwise to greener pastures.

      How old will you be when you retire? Older than 65? I meet government retirees all the time who are under 60 while more and more people in the private sector are laboring beyond 65. And no one in government employ pays for their own pension without significant help from taxpayers. In fact, in many plans, taxpayers put more into the pot than the government worker does AND are responsible for any shortfalls too. I believe you must know this because it's often a strike issue.

      Contracting out is an excellent suggestion. It's not as though private sector workers are likely to be more sullen and entitled than union workers. In fact, one can get better service including a smile from any store clerk right now than from most (not all) government workers.

      There is no justification for this and you can fume as much as you want, preferably after giving the professional service citizens deserve from one of the most pampered civil services in the world.

      • Long ago people aspired to being civil servants. Now people like you treat us like we're parolees…lucky to have a job…and should be punished for having it "so good". Let's face it, if you thought our jobs and compensation was so good…you'd be working here. You either can't, or won't, so you insult us.

        The only government retirees I know that retired before 65 are those that made this their entire career. Nobody does that anymore…not in the private sector, nor the public sector. I know oil-field workers, construction workers, plumbers, fitters, welders, who also retired at 45…and I don't go blaming them for the cost overruns that saw the industries they were in crash.

  21. why don't they switch it so government workers fund 100% of their own pension then nobody will complain …often in the private sector you have to buy your own rrsps and the company may buy some for you …i don't see why my taxes should go to these generous retirement plans would be nice if we could privatize much of the federal civil service

  22. To retire from the federal public service at 55 with full pension, you need to have been working in the public service for 35 years or more. Very few people started in the public service as teenagers, even 35 years ago. Public sector workers have always been eligible for an unreduced pension only at age 60.
    And all workers pay for everyone's retirement income in one way or another. Private sector pensions are paid for through the price we all pay for goods and services. Public sector pensions are partly funded by the taxes that pay for public sector salaries (which allow employees to make contributions) and fund government contributions.
    Disgruntled employee I am not, I love my job and where I stand in it, I don't need to get higher on the totem pole to be satisfied and proud of my service.

    • Remember the day when people did want to spend a career in the civil service and were respected for it?

    • Unfortunately you are wrong on a couple of points. You may retire after 30 years of service if you have reached the age of 55 and as of Dec 2009 I qualified. Checked out what my pension would be in a month and have decided to work a little longer, til age 60 before retiring. I do contribute to my pension plan just like everyone else. But unlike everyone else when I reach the age of 65 whanever I receive for OAS will be clawed back by our generous government, to the penny. So with a pension of $2045 a month it won't go too far. I will still have bills to pay, help my kids, grandkids. The usual expensses and that is if I stay healthy. I still will have to pay for my healthcare and dental care and as we age there will be other expenses. I also am not one of the overpaid underwork supervisors, I am you general run of the mill office worker.

  23. I love it when people working in the "private" sector poke fun at the "bloated" public service and lazy public servants etc. I would love to be able to quantify the amount of work public servants do supporting "private" industry through massive corporate welfare programs (direct or indirect subsidies, trade missions and negotiations, etc.). It's easy to be a sanctimonious blowhard when you're completely ignorant of how much the public service props up the not-so private sector.

    • Agreed. The Canadian government needs to stop taking money from ordinary citizens to pay for the bloated public service AND end corporate welfare.

      Forcing me to pay money from my earnings for your salary, or for Nortel's pension plan, or for Bombardier's R&D are all ludicrous.

      Start by firing all the public servants who give away our money away to these people. That's a double savings.

      Then privatize what can be sourced more cost-effectively from the private sector and keep what can't. Then cut back the rest of the government workforce and until it's in line with what you'd be get in the private sector.

      I know this sounds mean spiriited to those of you who work for the government. Please know that I'm not trying to harm you or your families by cutting back your "entitlements". But understand that every dollar that goes into your pocket came from mine. I also have a family to feed.

      • I'm tired of those that do nto work for the public service whining about money coming out of "their" pockets. Do they think we pay no taxes? I pay taxes as well and have a family to support.

  24. Of course it's war. With guns. Pointed at your face. In Canada. Unless we expand the civil service with better pay, perks and pensions.

  25. I totally agree with Lee in that my pension in the 18 years I worked in private Canadian industry was exactly the same as the one I had for 25 years working for the Canadian Public Service, indexation and all. The constant bickering about "Gold Plated" public service pensions by idiots like Catharine Swift of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is nothing but self-serving BS to cover up the fact that private business interests have never had any interest in providing pensions for their employees. And, by the way, I paid much less for my private pension than I did for my public service one.

    • We in the civil service are just easy targets. There's a perception, possibly left over from 50+ years ago, that we're paid very well and do very little for it. This impression has been leveraged by politicians to make us easy fiscal targets.

      50+ years ago people also respected people who worked in the civil service…it was a career to aspire to. That changed, too.

      The private sector had very good benefits packages and pension plans…but were able to convince their workers that, if they gave them a portion of that the employee could do better on their own and the government supported that…allowing firms to end pension plans in favor of private retirement investments.

      That's worked out so badly that provinces are looking at instituting their own pension plans for citizens. We're having to create a welfare plan for retirees because the retirement plans our government supported in the private sector failed to provide the majority of retirees with a livable income.

  26. I am retired and when working was limited in what I could contribute to an RRSP. As a result, now I am now living mostly on my savings. I have friends who are retired civil servants. I do not begrudge them their pensions; but I am very angry that they can split them with their spouses and save on income tax. I cannot do anything similar with my savings and hence pay far more tax than they do with equal incomes.

    That splitting should be stopped — and possibly would be were it not for the fact that the politicians will have the same benefit when they retire.

    • Whoa…I wouldn't say the splitting should be stopped. It should be expanded so that married couples can pool all their finances for tax purposes. That's like saying, "Hey…that's a really nice and useful benefit that fella over there has…wish I had it…take it away from him…make him suffer like I am." That's a weirdly pessemistic way to approach the problem. If you like income-splitting…why not try to get it for yourself?
      I have well-off friends who create a form of income splitting by having the wealthier spouse "pay" the other spouse an income…balancing their incomes that way.

      • If the government will not raise the GST back to where it should be, then there sooner or later have to be another tax increase somewhere. I think that everyone should be taxed as an individual. Your "well-off friends" probably have highpowered accountants lookEffective, legal, and amoral.;ing for dodges to avoid paying their fair share.

  27. I’ve said it before and will say it again: the private sector was out of the gates in the 1940s, just afrer North America’s social safety network was put in place, to augment their bottom line and do away with pensions systems that the unions had fought so hard to get into place. It is unfortunate that many unions lost their way and stopped focusing on workers’ rights. This resulted in Corporate spinners convincing their workers that unions and pensions were bad things. While this should never have been allowed to happen, I don’t think attacking public servants is the answer, just becasue their unions remained stong and because they were not foolish enough to fall into that particular corporate trap.

    What would make real sense is if we all stood up demanded that our society change to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of sector worked in, have similar if not the same solid and healthy pension systems. Don’t fall for the corporate/republican spinners who woud mislead you regarding the long terms costs. They only say such things because they want to line their own pockets.

  28. 21 years in government …salary $45075 … $54925 LESS THEN $100000.

    I am ready for the fight to keep my dignity and my pension. I make $15,000 less then my private sector counterparts doing the exact same range of duties in their jobs.

  29. So, I would call my "Gold Plate Pension" more of a deferred wage. Do you realize that I pay for 40% of the money that goes into my pension? It comes off my paltry pay cheque every month. As for early retirement, I don't even know where to start. Early retirement at 55 with 30 years service (Full Pension) I've heard the finance minister say this.
    Well, first off it's BS. Pensions are based on an accrual rate of 2% per year which would mean after 30 years you would receive a 60% pension. 70% is a full pension.This is penalized if you are under 55, which is most definately discriminatory, and I can't believe it hasn't been challenged yet. Anyways, I don't have much time for this shit, just getting a little tired of it, so I thought I'd say something. For anyone who reads this, please if you don't know what your talking about, don't talk about it.

  30. Why attack my pension that I paid into now for over 15 years. Don't I get rewarded for staying in one employer and not constantly moving and then whining when I hit 40 and have no retirement benefits in place. Want to save money across the federal government..easy..make public the amount of monetary bonuses paid out to bosses annually using TAXPAYER'S DOLLARS! A few years ago this bonus system came into place and made government services quantity over quality. Push the workers to the wall, demand they do more each year with less and less..then come year end and my boss gets his bonus paycheque. I just do the job for the paycheque, he does it for the bonus. We complain of CEO bonuses..but in the federal government, we keep it hush hush..imagine if Joe Taxpayer knew that.

  31. Gold platted pensions? Civil servants retiring at 55 with "full" pensions? Gimme a break! The only way to retire with a full pension is to work 35 years… given the fact that age of entry into the public has been hovering at 32 for the past few years, then the "average" civil servant can only retire at 67 is he/she want a full pension.

  32. I have worked for the Federal government for less than 3 years and have paid into my pension from day one; I also pay bi-weekly into a seperate and personal retirement fund. I fully expect that the notion of a "full pension" will be long gone before I have a chance to retire which is why I won't leave my future in the hands of politicians or the union. I feel this is a reality few Canadians are prepared for.

    While I haven't been a public servant for long I have always detested the ubiquitous comments from taxpayers about "their money" funding initiatives, services and salaries they do not believe in. What makes Canadians think a reduction in expenditures will result in "reimbursement" to tax payers? A reduction in expenditures will result in a reduction in services – that means one less person saved by search and rescue, a family goes hungry one week earlier due to a reduction in EI benefits, more accidents and lives lost due to a reduction in regulatory safety services provided by federal government departments.

  33. amended to above comment:

    While I agree that no organization is perfect and there may be some fat to trim within the PS; I know that the majority of my colleagues (especially the under 40 crowd) chose the fed gov as their employer because they care about making a difference for this country and its citizens…and we don't even expect a pension in return.

  34. When a Public servant contributes 1 dollar to thier pension the federal government contributes 2 dollars, therefore it is Canadians who contribute 70% of the pension.

    Read it here.

    Public service is grossly over valued, it needs to cut costs one way or another – Chretien and Paul Martin cut military and laid off thousands of employees, wether you are a lefty or right, its not evil, its required.

  35. When a Public servant contributes 1 dollar to thier pension the federal government contributes 2 dollars, therefore it is Canadians who contribute 70% of the pension.

    Read it here.

    Public service is grossly over valued, it needs to cut costs one way or another – Chretien and Paul Martin cut military and laid off thousands of employees, wether you are a lefty or right, its not evil, its required.

    • Then you should see how much you are paying for the PM and the MP's. The government cuts are hypocritical, they get paid from the same pot- only WAY WAY more, and they've managed to deflect the attention to lowly servants of the public. Why wouldn't the leaders of the country set an example by freezing their own wages and reducing their own retirement- which is truly golden!
      And if by cutting back the pensions of employees of Government of Canada is moved forward, it's setting a precident for the rest of us lowly people working in the private sector who get zero. We need the government to fight for all to have good pensions. Not cut from some and still leave others with nothing. No, they should raise the standards for all!
      Everyone deserves fullfilling work and satisfaction.

  36. The pensions are gold plated? 5 years ago nobody wanted to work for my employer 'cause the benefits and wages were well below the industry norms. We lost 60% of our workforce in one year as people decided they'd had enough of the poor pay, and poor recognition, and left to join the private sector. We basically only retained those people who were close to retirement.

    Now the economy has gone down and I'm told that my formerly paltry pension plan is "gold plated" and too good for me.

  37. Some jobs are civil service jobs 'cause it's unrealistic to make them private. If you wanted to pay for it privately the option exists already for you to do so…but you don't…so quit being a hypocrite.
    You want a firefighter to be privatized? Ever see a firm go bankrupt? Want that to happen to your fire department?
    Want your doctor to take bids on his services? While you're in the emergency room? You'll pay anything if the healthcare practitioner says that, for a few extra bucks, he can help your loved one live a little longer with a little less pain.
    Want a judge to be the lowest paid person? Lower than the lawyers that stand before him waiting for his evaluation? Lower than the corporate execs?
    And get real….CEO's make less than judges? I guess it all depends on how you calculate income. If you calculate net take home moneys over a year…no way do CEO's make less than judges. CEO's get bonuses, stock options, and other things that don't show up as "income" in this calculation. You should know that.

  38. sorry, something went wrong with my submission.

    If the government will not raise the GST back to where it should be, then there sooner or later have to be another tax increase somewhere. I think that everyone should be taxed as an individual. Your "well-off friends" probably have highpowered accountants looking after their income finding loopholes to avoid paying what they should. Effective, legal and and amoral.

    That's better

  39. So we have A Conservative Party in a minority postition who is unable to go back to the roots of the party (yes Reform) and start the process for a flat income tax. yes they made promises that are soon forgotten. Status quo and all that. Bring on the flat tax. It is more fair and equitable than the current tax system.
    As for the posturing and cutting – stypical Conservatives who will, if they staty in power, bring Canada to another recession by contracting the economy.
    So instead they pick on the Public Service employees – easy targets I have to day – rather than be a proper governement and do what they need to do – make structual change to the tax system as they promissed and in the short term raise GST back to 7% to keep the deficit in check (if they can stop tossing money out at all of thier friends)

  40. Can anyone, anyone show me a private pension that is reduced by the exact amount of CPP you recieve at 65????
    I though so. NO!
    Public Servants do.

  41. Never got this much attention when our mill was shut down and 6hundred jobs were lost , i will just say like they said to us,

  42. Again, Great article Nancy. Thanks for sharing this. And may I add, I believe that they should take action about this soon for them to realize that they need more results.