Veteran Affairs eliminates nearly 300 jobs in deficit-reduction fight

OTTAWA – Nearly 300 positions at Veterans Affairs Canada are being eliminated as a result of measures in the 2012 federal budget.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union representing the federal workers, was served with a letter June 17 notifying it that 297 positions are “affected” by the reoganization.

Of those 224 jobs will actually be cut, as opposed to be reallocated.

The department’s headquarters on P.E.I., locations in Ottawa and field offices across the country will be affected by the measures.

The vast majority of the reductions — 153 — will be made in Charlottetown.

The overhaul of the department will take until 2015, and the Harper government has consistently said it will not affect services to ex-members of the military and the RCMP.

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the affected positions are information technology and communications, and do not affect client services.

“As promised we are maintaining and improving service as well as the delivery of our services and benefits to Veterans and we are confident that these back office reductions can be managed through the close to 700 employees eligible to retire in the coming years,” said Niklaus Schwenker in an email.

But the union isn’t buying it, noting the federal government recently signed a $318-million contract with a private, for-profit company to deliver some services being chopped in the public sector.

Officials say many veterans are losing access to front-line, face-to-face service from public service workers, and instead are being told to call a toll-free number or use a computer at a Service Canada office.

“The reduction of front-line staff at Veterans Affairs is being made on the backs of their clients, the veterans — the heroes of our nation, the men and women who have sacrificed their health and lives for the safety and security of Canadians,” Yvan Thauvette, president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, said in a statement.

“The needs of veterans are becoming greater and more complex, requiring collaboration between provincial and federal departments. Employees are working with fewer resources with more complex legislation and programs.”