Job cuts could mean weather woes: critics

Global News
Date published: 
Sun, 2011-08-07

Hundreds of job cuts for federal meteorologists and scientists have some forecasting a gloomier future for Canada’s ability to predict major weather events.

Approximately 300 jobs are on the chopping block at Environment Canada including scientists, biologists, chemists, computer scientists and engineers.

The federal government has warned 700 people that they could be among the 300 expected to lose their jobs, according to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

Until then, it is hard to predict exactly who will be cut and where, but many are bracing for a storm.

“The science at Environment Canada is our way of looking into the future and understanding what is coming and what needs to be done to prepare,” said John Bennett, executive director at the Sierra Club of Canada. “Without those eyes and ears into the future this down the road is going to be a very expensive cut.”

Bennett said the cut promises to leave Canada unprepared to face climate change and to make laws about how to preserve the environment.

Others fear the cuts will impact how well meteorologists can predict the weather, giving Canadians less chatter at bus stops and making them more vulnerable to Mother Nature.

“Anything that affects the accuracy of those forecasts and the efficiency with what they are made is to be avoided,” said Ian Rutherford, executive director of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.

The Canadian weather system produces severe weather warnings that are broadcast across the country to help people stay safe while riding out storms, floods, droughts and fires.

And weather reports aren’t only crucial during emergencies.

Rutherford said ordinary Canadians, construction workers, forestry workers, fisherman, traffic controllers and sports stadium operators all on important weather information day-to-day.

“The risk is that you take a very short term view and you manage to maintain services for now, but you’ve lost your ability to improve them in the future and eventually you will pay the price for that,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said there are about 500 meteorologists currently working at Environment Canada. He said it may be legitimate to make cuts, but he’d like to see a plan to mitigate the impacts of them.

Global Toronto’s Anthony Farnell said over the past year he noticed that Environment Canada is slower to update forecasts and is not always fully-staffed at night as the department seems to be scaling back.

“It just doesn’t bode well for weather-forecasting in general,” he said.

But it could also have dire impacts for Canadians, depending on how the cuts are implemented, he said.

“What we don’t want to see is that all of the sudden now there is not someone there all the time to make the severe weather warnings,” Farnell said.

Environment Canada defended the cuts as part of balancing the budget by 2014-2015 – a goal that will see other departments facing budget cuts as the government looks for billions of dollars in savings.

A government spokesman said that attrition will also cover many of these positions and that in recent years an average of 520 employees has left the department each year.


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