Nanaimo environmental organizations are concerned about cuts to the Ministry of Environment’s workforce and the impacts on protection and conservation efforts across the country.
Environment Canada informed 776 employees their positions may be eliminated as the ministry examines cost saving measures.
Of those, the ministry expects 300 employees to be laid off, representing less than five per cent of Environment Canada’s workforce. About 400 jobs will be eliminated through attrition as employees retire this year.
Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said job cuts in the Ministry of Environment are quite frightening.
“These actions are an indication on the continuing attacks on environmental research and environmental protection in this country,” she said. “You can’t have environmental protection unless you have people.”
Mark Johnson, Environment Canada spokesman, said in an e-mail that Canadians have given the government a strong mandate to balance the budget by 2014-15. As a result, the ministry is examining spending.
Johnson said Environment Canada’s key objectives haven’t changed.
“We remain focused on providing Canadians with an environment that is clean, safe and sustainable,” he said. “However, we also need to focus spending and using our existing resources to their best advantage. We have considered both how we work and what we will work on in the future and we are adjusting our work to be as efficient as possible.”
He said the 2011 budget will continue to allow Environment Canada to be a world-class regulator, focusing on protecting and conserving air and water quality, wildlife and natural areas.
Wilhelmson questions how the ministry will continue to be a steward of Canada’s natural areas with less staff for research, monitoring, education and program creation, saying where the cuts happen, the environment is going to pay the price.
She said over the years the Ministry of Environment has been continually chipped away with reductions in science and monitoring staff and programs.
“Reduction reflects the philosophy that the environment isn’t a priority,” she said. “It’s open season for industry to harm our environment.”
Paul Chapman, Nanaimo and Area Land Trust volunteer coordinator, said the environment should still be a priority even when money is tight.
“Even in tough economic times environmental concerns still rank as important,” he said. “If we are going to be working to reduce spending we will have to be very mindful of how we go about doing that.”
Environment Canada has 550 employees in the Pacific and Yukon Region. Of those, 62 have received notice that their position may be eliminated.
Employees who are laid off will be provided with a guarantee of a reasonable job offer to other top priority areas of government departments.