Yesterday’s federal budget did nothing to bring clarity to the governmen’s plan to ensure the predictability of federal public sector compensation.

The wording around these plans was lifted directly from the economic update tabled in November 2008. It refers to “putting in place annual wage increases for the federal public administration of 2.3 per cent in 2007-08 and 1.5 per cent for the following three years.”

In June 2008, we signed a Collective Agreement that covered the period from November 2007 to November 2009. The right to bargain collectively is guaranteed in the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; a point we articulated to the Honourable Minster of Finance in a January 15 letter and, through the National Joint Council, to the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada and the leaders of the federal opposition parties.

At this point, we fully expect the government to abide by its legal and moral obligation to respect this agreement.

The budget indicates that separate legislation setting these wage increases is to follow. As that process unfolds we will remind the government that any measures that undermine the financial management capacity of the federal public service would be counterproductive at a time of record government spending.

Financial Officers are highly-qualified financial professionals; they will be called upon like never before to ensure the money earmarked for bolstering the economy is allocated and spent properly. Financial Officers understand the need for accountability and how that must be balanced against the urgency to distribute the stimulus package. We have seen the result of previous governments pushing money out the door without being mindful of accountability. When the dust settles, Canadians will expect accountability for the billions of stimulus dollars spent.

The FI Community will be on the frontline of this initiative. Financial management capacity has already been strained as a result of the implementation of accountability legislation; now is not the time for the government to adopt a one size fits all approach to the public service that could exacerbate that strain. Competition for financial professionals will be fierce in the coming years; the government must ensure it can continue to recruit and retain the most qualified of these professionals.

An economic downturn is no time to do away with the principles of accountability nor is it the time to weaken the FI Community in the name of short-term political gain.

Milt Isaacs, CMA
President and Chair of the Board of Directors
Association of Canadian Financial Officers