by JIM ALGIE
Tuesday’s 2015 federal budget does nothing to clarify the confusing matter of understaffing at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the union president representing agency inspectors said in a post-budget interview.
In pre-budget statements, Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, warned of crucial CFIA staff shortages at key meat processing plants in Alberta. Despite government assurances it has funding for as many as 200 new inspectors, neither the money nor the inspection staff has appeared, Kingston said.
“There is nothing in the budget that provides relief,” the union president said. Some new funding may be going to finance executive level jobs in what Kingston described as “one of the most top heavy organizations in all of Ottawa.” Meanwhile, front line inspectors are “woefully under resourced, are burning out, left, right and centre and some are resigning in frustration,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz dismissed the union president’s complaints as over blown.
“The union rears its head every time there’s a budget saying ‘Oh my god, we’re being slashed,’” Ritz said. “It’s not true,” the minister said in an interview. New inspectors are coming, he said.
“Last fall we put forward the ability for CFIA to have another 200 front line food inspectors and they’re in the process of doing that,” Ritz said. “These people don’t grow on trees. They’ve got to be found, acclimatized and trained and then put to work.”
“In this budget there is nothing in there that speaks to any kind of cuts at CFIA,” Ritz said. “We as a government recognize the great work that needs to be done in conjunction with public safety both at the federal and provincial level.”
Kingston said government talk about CFIA is “all smoke and mirrors.”
“People are leaving the front line positions and nobody’s backfilling them,” Kingston said. BF