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Citizenship, research centres cut by Ottawa

Apr 13 2012

The federal government's centre for plant health in Saanichton and two citizenship offices in Victoria and Nanaimo will soon be axed - laying off up to two dozen workers - as part of Ottawa's plan to slash billions in spending.

As regional Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices are closed across the country, nine jobs will be lost in Victoria and two in Nanaimo, the government confirmed Thursday. Those employees were notified Thursday. The department says it will maintain at least one office in each province.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Saanichton research centre for plant health, at 8801 East Saanich Rd., will also be shuttered. That closing will affect about 12 employees, said Bob Jackson, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal public sector union.

The food inspection agency was unable to provide the exact number of layoffs.

In addition to job losses in Saanichton, "there's a lot of industry that supports that research facility," Jackson said. Local agency meat inspectors who provide services for provincial meat plants are also expected to be laid off, he said.

The government says 19,200 jobs will be eliminated in the next three years as it cuts $5.2 billion in spending.

Customs and Immigration Union president JeanPierre Fortin said Thursday that 1,026 Canada Border Services Agency jobs would be slashed, including about 106 in the Pacific region.

The Conservative government has said the majority of savings will be found through retirements, attrition and in "back-office" administrative jobs, but Jackson said it's evident this week the cuts are affecting front-line workers, valued public services and local economies.

More than 5,000 federal public service workers in 23 government departments received notices Wednesday, saying they could lose their jobs. In B.C., more than 200 workers are affected, Jackson said.

On Vancouver Island, the cuts include: 22 positions at the Department of National Defence in Esquimalt, 16 client service agents at Veteran Affairs in Victoria, 11 Citizenship and Immigration Canada workers, about 12 Canadian Food Inspection Agency employees and six Canada Border Services Agency workers, the union said.

"The cuts being made will be felt - at border crossings," Jackson said.

"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans hasn't announced its cuts yet, but we know $73 million has to be cut out of their budget and DFO does have a sizable presence in B.C. and certainly Vancouver Island," Jackson said. And with $1.1 billion to be cut from the Department of National Defence, "this is just the beginning," he said.

Ana Curic, director of communications for Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, said most services provided by citizenship offices are delivered electronically, by mail or by phone. "There's not as much need for as many people," Curic said.

The closing of the Victoria and Nanaimo offices will be phased in over the next couple of months.

From now on, citizenship officials will be brought in for ceremonies or as needed, she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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