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MARK BONOKOSKI: ‘Return to sender,’ unrequited civil servants now say to Trudeau

Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 10, 2019. – Chris Wattie
Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 10, 2019. – Chris Wattie/Reuters

Who can forget the joy and rapture in 2015 when the Pied Piper of Papineau, Justin Trudeau, went from a third-party leader to being elected prime minister, ousting the cold and calculating Stephen Harper and getting an ego-sized majority government to boot?

The federal civil service was in love.

When Trudeau waltzed into the massive building shortly after his victory that houses the foreign affairs office, now called Global Affairs, the swooning crowd of supposedly non-partisan employees jammed into the foyer went wild.

There was loud and long-lasting applause and, of course, scores of selfies were taken with the selfie-prolific prime minister — all of which had the cynics in the national press gallery caught somewhat off guard, despite the fact they also hated Harper, mainly because they had grown tired of him ignoring their existence.

But, to the civil servants, they finally had their savior when Trudeau moved into the big office in the once-upon-a-time Langevin Block.

And they had every reason to think so.

In his final annual employee report to the PM, the now-departed Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, then the capo di tutti capi of all federal bureaucrats, let it be known the civil service had grown again in 2018 and was rebounding quite nicely from the cold-hearted Harper era.

Since the Trudeau Liberals were elected, in fact, the federal civil service has grown by 16,537 paycheques and pensions, a number which would fill or nearly fill most NHL hockey arenas.

Its membership now totals 273,571, the biggest boost coming between 2017 and 2018 when the Trudeau government signed off on adding 10,875 more taxpayer-dependent workers to the federal payroll.

But universal happiness is quickly ebbing.

As the Public Service of Canada’s national president, Chris Aylward, told the Hill Times , even the increase of civil servants puts the total around the same as it was during the middle of the Harper era.

“What this means,” said Aylward, “is that our members are working harder than ever before to provide services.”

The tides in Ottawa, for sure, do not take long to turn.

On Thursday, members of PSAC’s capital branch protested at one of the larger federal complexes with a “return to sender” message for Trudeau — citing an open letter he wrote to them during the campaign promising not only respect but a wider and more progressive range of benefits.

“We’re sending Justin Trudeau’s letter back,” said Greg McGillis, a senior executive in PSAC’s capital branch. “We need him to keep his promises and commitments to public servants.”

It’s been a rough time lately for civil servants, with the love-in getting as close to gone as gone gets.

The new Phoenix federal pay system, introduced by the Harper Conservatives but put into play by the Trudeau Liberals, has been an absolute disaster. Some people didn’t get paid, some got paid too much, and delays had become the norm.

Add to that the nine months that PSAC has been in less-than-cordial negotiations with Treasury Board over a collective agreement for 100,000 of its employees, and “sunny ways” is not resonating with the same strength as it did when Justin Trudeau first flashed his mega-watt victory smile.

Today the lights are not nearly as bright.

And the glow of 2015 is quickly on the fade.

markbonokoski@gmail.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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