* 10 percent of staffers to lose jobs, be reassigned
* Government says move needed to help cut budget deficit
* Critic says polluters will welcome news
(Adds comments by government minister, opposition)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Aug 4 Canada's environment ministry
will cut or reassign around 10 percent of its workers, unions
said on Thursday, prompting fears that services like weather
forecasting and environmental protection will suffer.
Officials said the move was designed to help eliminate the
budget deficit. Critics said it underscored what they portray
as the right-leaning Conservative government's contempt for the
The cuts are part of a government plan to find C$4 billion
($4.1 billion) a year in savings by 2014-15 from an envelope of
C$80 billion, or about 5 percent.
The two unions representing workers at Environment Canada
said they had been told this week that 300 employees would lose
their jobs while a further 450 or so would be reassigned.
Those affected include engineers, meteorologists,
scientists, chemists and biologists.
William Pynn, head of the Union of Environment Workers,
said meteorology, water monitoring and enforcement of
regulations would suffer.
"The cuts are so massive that the support mechanism for the
research that Environment Canada does ... is certainly going to
be challenged," he told Reuters.
Stephen Vandervalk, president of Grain Growers of Canada,
the country's largest farmer group, said farmers relied on
Environment Canada for warnings about crop-damaging hailstorms
and other severe weather.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that Ottawa
would take "some difficult actions over the next couple of
years" to eliminate a budget deficit estimated to be C$32.3
billion in 2011-12.
Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement, in overall charge of
cutting government expenditures, told reporters that
"Environment Canada is open for business, they're doing their
job, and they want to do it more efficiently".
Unions fear Ottawa will slash the federal civil service to
meet Harper's target of returning to the black by 2014-15.
"This was a bit shocking and surprising and we're really
sad. This is really going to throw the department into a bit of
turmoil," said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional
Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Green critics say the government -- which has strong
political support in the oil-rich western province of Alberta
-- is far too close to the oil and gas industry.
"This is not about the deficit. This is about a blatant
disregard for need to protect our natural heritage," said John
Bennett, the executive director of Sierra Club Canada.
"It will give the polluters what they want, a toothless
Environment Canada with no scientific or enforcement
capability," he told Reuters.
Environment Minister Peter Kent raised eyebrows in January
when he referred to oil from northern Alberta's tar sands as
"ethical". Green groups say exploiting the tar sands produces
high amounts of greenhouse gases and other toxins.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren)