UCP cuts 100s of ag jobs days after offloading ag research onto universities

Just as I predicted.

Last week, I reported twice on new changes coming to government-funded agriculture research.

First, I discussed the transfer of over half a dozen research programmes to 4 post-secondary institutions.

The second was the creation of Results Driven Agriculture Research, a third-party arm-length organization devoted to determining and funding agriculture research priorities in Alberta.

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In the former, I reported that

Which makes me wonder if this is code for budget cuts. After all, the 2020–21 First Quarter Fiscal Update presented by Travis Toews in August indicates that the Agriculture and Forestry ministry has to cut $140 million from its operating expense budget this year (compared to the 2018–19 budget). That’s a 14.5% cut, the 5th largest of all the ministries.

They have to cut 277 full-time equivalent positions, the largest staff reduction of all the ministries. . . . In other words, 2 out of every 5 positions cut from government ministries will come from A&F.

And that’s just this year.

Those cuts have to come from somewhere, and there aren’t nearly 300 administrative assistants working in the A&F ministry.

As I predicted, there are indeed cuts coming to the Agriculture and Forestry ministry.

Steve Stringfellow, the executive negotiations strategist for the Provincial Bargaining Coordination Office, confirmed this in a letter dated 19 October 2020 to Dale Perry, a negotiator with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

In the letter, Stringfellow informed Perry that the ministry planned to abolish 247 positions. The eliminations will occur in two phases, the first of which is already underway. The second phase will occur in the new year, before the fiscal year ends in March.

Stringfellow insists that “wherever possible”, the government will eliminate positions through attrition. But as I’ve pointed out previously, not filling a vacancy caused by attrition is still a job loss:

[Attrition job losses] reduce the number of people providing public services. Plus, not refilling vacancies caused by people leaving jobs (through retirement or quitting or whatever) means that people graduating have fewer jobs available. We’re functionally laying off graduates before they’ve even graduated.

The bulk of those 247 positions will be cut from the Agriculture division, with 135 total losses in the following departments:

  • Plant and Bee Health Surveillance
  • Agriculture Service Boards
  • Crop Assurance Extension, including Farm Safety
  • Research and Extension
    • Dairy research and extension consortium
    • Cropping systems
    • Greenhouse service agreements
    • CAP science and research
    • Innovation agriculture grants
    • Apiculture research
    • Strategic research and development program
    • Applied research in value-added meats
    • Environmental and Farm Stewardship
    • Irrigation and Farm Water

Oddly, several of those programmes used to employ researchers who the government announced last week as moving to post-secondary research programmes, namely apiculture, irrigation, dairy research, and cropping systems.

The Process Trade & International Relations division will eliminate 21 positions, some of which will be the result of either reducing or even cancelling the following programmes:

  • Food Science and Technology Centre in Brooks
  • Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc
  • Agri-food laboratories for food micro-biology, parasitology and support services

The Strategy, Planning & Governance division will abolish 13 positions, with 10 of them coming from restructuring of the 4-H programme. 4-H Alberta is consolidating 7 regions and 56 districts into 5 managed areas. The provincial government is using that as an excuse to switch from a support staff model to a funding support model, hence the 10 lost positions.

A further 21 positions will be lost through what Stringfellow calls “administrative and procedural efficiencies” throughout the ministry.

Finally, 57 positions will be abolished from the Forestry department in the areas of Wildfire Management, Forest Management, and Forest Health.

Like I’ve said before, tax cuts are job cuts.

The UCP government was never interested in doing what’s best for agriculture research in Alberta. Their announcements last week were nothing more than precursors to slashing budgets.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

4 replies on “UCP cuts 100s of ag jobs days after offloading ag research onto universities”

So research work that until now has been done in-house by government employees is now being outsourced to third party entities, along with funding. Those government employees are then laid off, purportedly as a budget cutting measure. Salary expenses go down but third party funding expenditures go up. Is any money actually saved in this process, or is this little more than a shell game?

The RDAR is getting only $37 million each year to hand out. The A&F ministry is cutting 4 times that much from their operating expenses. They definitely will be “saving” money.

But RDAR is not the only third party entity that will be receiving government funding. Your article also refers to the government switching from a support staff model to a funding model with 4-H. There could be more funding announcements to come. My sense is that the UCP government and its supporters generally view government employees as “leeches” that freeload off the taxes paid by “real” (ie. private industry) Albertans, but appear to be just fine with government obtaining, and paying for, services by instead contracting with third party entities (especially if those third party entities are for-profit corporations owned by UCP friends and supporters).

First they relaxed rules around meat processing.

Now they have cut agri-food laboratories for food micro-biology, parasitology and support services.

And inspectors can inspect without actually inspecting, just by Skyping.

Cool. Less red tape, more tapeworms. It couldn’t happen at a better time.

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