Budget 2017: Federal government review coming for at least three departments in public service

The public service can expect a “comprehensive review” of at least three departments as part of a federal government effort to eliminate inefficient programs, curb wasteful spending and end ineffective and obsolete initiatives, according to the federal budget released Wednesday.

Exactly which departments will be subjected to the review won’t be revealed until sometime down the road, following a budget that featured only modest investments to the public service — and no mention of new money to help fix the problematic Phoenix pay system that has resulted in some federal workers getting paid too much or others nothing at all.

The largest union representing public service workers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, had been hoping for a $75-million contingency fund so employees could get paid correctly and on time.

The budget was vague on when the comprehensive review of departments will begin, but it was among three measures announced to find better value from the public service.

The government also said it would begin the first comprehensive review in decades of federal fixed assets, such as buildings. The government said it spends $10 billion a year buying, maintaining and repairing owned and leased assets.

The review will be staged by asset-type — such as engineering assets, science facilities and so on — over the next three years.

The government also vowed to conduct a three-year review of all federal innovation and clean technology programs with the goal of simplifying programming and better aligning resources to improve the effectiveness of those programs.

The government expects to report back on the progress of the reviews in next year’s budget. The expenditure reviews come a year after the government announced annual reductions of $221 million on professional services, travel and government advertising.

The 2016 budget promised a $444-million investment in the Canada Revenue Agency to track down tax cheats.

This year’s budget promises an additional $523.9 million over five years, which the government anticipates will result in an additional $1 billion in assessed tax annually over that time period.

The funding is expected to result in more than 300 new jobs for auditors and other staff at the CRA, with a specific focus on the “underground economy.”

The budget put a heavy emphasis on innovation, and that included a promised review of the National Research Council that would examine the future role the NRC would play in creating more opportunities for women researchers while supporting “breakthrough” research.

The budget also established a $2-million budget for the Chief Science Advisor and secretariat and promised to develop a new federal science infrastructure strategy, including for federal laboratories and testing facilities.

The government also vowed there would be a more “integrated and effective approach” to laboratories, information technology and human resources in the federal science community and they’d seek to ensure federal scientists have access to world-class infrastructure, innovative equipment and computer networks.

There was also a series of less-defined promises that could improve the working lives of the public service.

The government promised to put more women in positions of leadership in the public and private sectors.

The government also signaled there would be more support for federally-regulated employees to request more flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times, the ability to work from home and unpaid leave to help manage family responsibilities.

There was also the announcement of an additional $7 billion over the next 10 years to create more affordable child-care spaces.

Sidebar: Other investments in the public service

Public Safety

– $17.4 million over three years to the National Energy Board to enhance oil and gas pipeline safety and oversight. There will be a further $1.9 million over three years to keep Canadians informed on energy, regulations and pipeline safety — investments that the government said will be fully cost-recovered from the industry
– $1.37 million to Public Safety Canada to better safeguard Canada’s critical infrastructure, including transportation networks, power grids and hospitals
– Promising to invest $8.7 million over five years to Natural Resources Canada to expand the list of regulated chemical, and better control of access to the chemicals used to manufacture homemade explosives

Innovation

– Provide $229 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, to Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada to continue Research and Development in core-clean energy and clean transportation programming
– $200 million to Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support clean technology research
– $15 million a year to Global Affairs Canada starting in 2017 to implement strategy connecting clean technology firms with international networks and educating them on business supports provided by Canadian government
– $14.5 million over four years allocated to Natural Resources Canada and Innovation, Science and Technology Canada for the creation of a Clean Technology Data strategy. There will also be $12 million over four years to establish a “Clean Growth Hub” within Innovation Canada.

Housing

– $39.9 million to Statistics Canada to develop and implement a database of all properties in Canada, providing information on purchases and sales, the degree of foreign ownership and homeowner demographics and financing

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