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Attempt to engage Manitoba’s civil service with garden gnome mascot insulting, tone-deaf: union

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An attempt by the Manitoba government to better engage with its employees — using a ceramic garden gnome — has come up short, says the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Just before the holiday break, government employees were sent an email from the head of the province’s civil service, introducing them to Gerome G. Gnome — a garden gnome billed as the government’s “engagement champion.”

“The purpose of Gerome is to facilitate engagement, through sharing stories and highlighting the inspiring work of our public servants in a fun and light-hearted way,” reads the Dec. 21 email to government employees from Fred Meier, clerk of the executive council.

The email also included an introduction from “Gerome” — written in the first person.

“I come from a long line of gnomes who have been featured in European myths and legends,” the introduction reads.

The email included photos of the garden gnome at various locations across Manitoba.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union says the government’s use of a ceramic garden gnome as a way to engage with the civil service is poorly timed. (Government of Manitoba illustration)

“Now that social media is a ‘thing,’ families are taking their gnomes on vacations and taking photos of them in unique and memorable locations,” Gerome’s introduction reads.

“This is a great way to appreciate gnomes, as we do love seeing the world.”

The email also promises that Gerome will be visiting government workplaces.

“I can’t wait to meet you and help you share your stories about what you do, how you do it, and why it’s so cool and important,” the email says.

‘Insensitive’ in light of cuts: MGEU

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls the move “insensitive” in light of the Progressive Conservative government’s pledge to cut 1,200 civil service jobs and the coming expiration of a no-layoff clause that has protected government jobs.

The clause expires March 29, when the government’s agreement with the public sector lapses.

“Timing is everything,” said Gawronsky of the gnome’s appearance.

“We are all for meaningful engagement and strong communication … but right now, when the people who deliver our public services are facing so much uncertainty … sending a ceramic statue around to government offices feels a little tone-deaf,” she said.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls Gerome G. Gnome a ‘tone-deaf’ engagement tactic. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“The vast majority of our members are looking for something a bit more meaningful — stability in their jobs, ensuring that they have the ability to make their mortgage payments and feed their children,” said Gawronsky.

“These are adults that are providing needed services to Manitoba.… It just feels so, so wrong in my book. It just feels so insulting.”

MGEU officials have said they know of around 150 government jobs that will be cut through privatization and contracting out, including about 50 each in special operations and Manitoba Government Air Services, 30 positions at the provincially run tree nursery, eight jobs in French translation services and up to 11 jobs in the government’s real estate services division.

‘We are trying to increase dialogue’

In the email sent to employees, Meier said the idea for Gerome came from a group of public servants, and the campaign was launched after an employee engagement survey was conducted.

The survey saw response from over 7,000 employees — a participation rate of just slightly better than 50 per cent.

In a statement to CBC News, Meier said the gnome was introduced as a way to spur communication while changes are implemented to the public service through the government’s civil service transformation strategy, launched last February.

“The public service is in the midst of significant change. In past surveys, we have heard from employees that they want more communication from leadership,” reads the statement.

“The gnome is one of several ways that we are trying to increase dialogue within the public service regarding engagement, allowing department leadership and employees to use it as a way to encourage dialogue and share achievements within their departments and beyond.”

While she appreciates the effort to open lines of communication between employees and the government, Gawronsky said Gerome G. Gnome isn’t the way to go about it.

“We don’t need a ceramic statue to sit in between us while we communicate.” 


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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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