Some Ontario environmental watchdog employees, including Saxe, to be axed, despite Ford’s election promise they would not be
|Toronto Star 14 Mar 2019 at 16:26|
The Ontario PC government announced in November , as part of its fall economic statement, that it planned to merge the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario into the auditor general’s office in an effort to cut costs.
In an email Thursday, Christine Pedias, a spokesperson for the auditor general, confirmed that five full-time, non-management employees were not offered positions as part of the transition, which is scheduled to take place by May 1. The commissioner’s office has a full-time staff of about 25.
“As of today, the Office of the Auditor General has offered positions to most of the technical, specialized staff of the Environmental Commissioner’s Office, including its management team,” Pedias said.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to offer positions to the remaining staff because they duplicate our existing in-house resources, or their specific roles are not required under our expanded mandate.”
In addition to the five employees, Dianne Saxe, who has been commissioner since December 2015, is expected to lose her position.
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In a statement, the premier’s spokesperson Simon Jefferies said the government wasn’t responsible for the job cuts. He said its decision to merge the ECO under the auditor general had “strengthened and expanded the oversight of the auditor general into the environment field. This is in line with other jurisdictions, including the federal government.”
“Any staffing decisions made during the process were made by the office of the auditor general,” he said.
One of the affected ECO employees, who asked not to be named out of concern for future job prospects, said they felt betrayed because they had taken the premier at his word.
“I’m pissed off, because Doug Ford said there’d be no job losses,” the employee said.
The person said they felt the premier had acted out of vindictiveness because the ECO had issued critical reports about government environmental policy.
“This is typical Doug Ford …. He retaliates, right?” the employee said.
The ECO’s stated goals are ensuring the legislature and the public receive accurate information about the province’s implementation of the Environmental Bill of Rights and “government progress towards its environmental, climate and energy conservation goals and responsibilities.”
The commissioner has the ability to issue reports, but doesn’t directly intervene in environmental issues.
When the Ontario PCs announced, last fall, they would eliminate the office, environmentalists urged them to reverse the decision , arguing that the commissioner was a strong independent voice crucial to holding the government to account on promises to curb pollution and combat climate change.
“While Doug Ford continues to make things up and claim that he won’t cost people their jobs, the layoffs have already started,” Arthur said.
“Everyone from nurses to autism therapists and social workers are already seeing job losses as a result of Ford’s cuts. Families are right to be concerned that this is just the beginning, and (are) left wondering who will be next to lose their job, and who will be next to find their services impacted — from health care to autism therapies.”
In addition to merging the environmental commissioner’s office under the auditor general, last fall the government also announced plans to combine the child and youth advocate and French language services commissioner with the ombudsman’s office.
At the time, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the move would “reduce unnecessary cost,” but didn’t say how many jobs would be lost.
In February, Ombudsman Paul Dube confirmed that some employees with the child advocate would lose their jobs as part of the move.
While on the campaign trail last summer, Ford pledged not a single employee would lose their job. But, in recent weeks, he and his ministers have shifted to saying no “front-line” workers will be cut.
On Wednesday, Ford confirmed that management-level jobs would be axed under the government’s plan to consolidate 20 provincial health agencies.
He said the losses would affect “the CEOs that are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, the big silos they have there, the big executives, presidents and vice-presidents making outrageous amounts of money.”