Every year for one week, the federal government celebrates its more than 300,000 public service employees. It usually comes and goes without too much fanfare, but this year should be different.
All Canadians should be encouraged to recognize the public sector workers helping our country weather the brutal impacts of COVID-19.
PSAC members who live and work here in the National Capital Region of Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., have represented the core federal public service response to this pandemic. Our members at Canada Revenue and Service Canada have stepped up to process much-needed Canadian Emergency Response Benefit payments so that Canadians can rely on steady financial support throughout this national crisis. Many of our members are volunteering to be trained to take on new jobs to process these payments.
When tens of thousands of Canadians were stranded abroad and needed help to come home, public service workers at Global Affairs worked 24-7 until everyone was safely home. And as people arrived on Canadian soil, it was Border Services personnel and CBSA Officers who faced the risk of COVID infection head on as they ushered them home. Every day, this work continues.
When millions of Canadians and business owners lost their income, the government turned to CRA staff to deliver the bulk of their financial aid package. With unprecedented speed, those workers have now processed more than 15 million CERB applications in just more than two months. Thousands of employees volunteered from completely unrelated jobs in order to answer phones and do whatever they could to support those emergency efforts.
As Service Canada offices were overrun and became a potential hotbed for the spread of COVID-19, thousands of workers quickly created makeshift offices in their homes and continued providing critical support for Canadians—and many did so while caring for children full time.
And when each day we heard stories about meat-packing plants overrun with the virus, it was federal food inspectors who continued to go into those plants to ensure the safety of our food supply during this crisis.
Canada’s public service has shown who they are: dedicated, compassionate, and hardworking people in communities across the country.
At all levels of government, it’s become clear just how essential public services are and we must ensure that our political leaders understand this.
After all, we’ve seen the disastrous effects of
Ottawa’s implementation of the LRT because SNC-Lavalin, a private company, was partly responsible for the rollout as a public-private partnership, and what would have been better if the project was managed by the public service instead. Further, we know that our economic recovery will only happen with a strong public sector to
support the private sector’s restart.
Unfortunately, cuts to public services are already being contemplated and, in some cases, implemented. And in Ontario, the cuts to long-term care by the Ford government are so visible and deep, the military, after a scathing analysis on this sector, had to take over the management of the most impacted nursing homes, and, in some cases, will remain there for the next two weeks. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Governments could have wealthy corporations and ultra-rich billionaires pay their fair share to sustain critical public services. Canadian private-sector corporations are hoarding hundreds of billions of dollars in cash—and shielding as much of it as possible from the same tax pool that everyone else has to pay into. The lesson from the pandemic is that there has never been a more important time to strengthen and expand—not cut—public services and to recognize the incredible jobs that public service workers do every day.
If there was ever a National Public Service Week all Canadians should celebrate, this is the one.
Thank you to all the dedicated public servants working to help Canadians through the pandemic.
Alex Silas is the regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, National Capital Region.