Forced return to the office for public servants: A missed opportunity for the federal government

Ottawa - With the introduction of telework, the pandemic led to a profound and largely positive reorganization of work practices in the federal public service. This reorganization helped reduce the carbon footprint of the public service, increase family-work balance, mitigate public health risks, and encourage a local economy in the National Capital Region. In that context, the Green Party of Canada believes that the federal government's decision to require public servants to return to the office at least two days a week is a significant step backwards.

"The use of the term 'back to work' by Liberal Ministers is a deliberate attempt to mislead people by implying that federal public servants somehow did not work diligently to meet the needs of Canadians during the pandemic," said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada.

The environmental benefits of teleworking arrangements for public servants - with fewer cars on the road during rush hour and lower energy costs for public buildings - are not insignificant. The Liberal government's decision is therefore difficult to reconcile with its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2020, the population of the Ottawa-Gatineau area has also grown and public transit systems are still not delivering adequately, notably in the absence of the promised Gatineau streetcar and because of technical problems experienced by the O-Train. 

"In making this decision, it is abundantly clear that neither the government nor senior public servants have heeded the advice of public service employees and their unions who have strongly advised against a general recall to fixed office. Once again, the Liberal government is making these decisions in isolation from those directly affected and the Canadian public," said Didier Périès, Chief Executive Officer of the Green Party of Canada Hull-Aylmer riding association. 

The number of hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses is also at its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. By forcing public servants to return to the office, the government is greatly increasing the risk of infection and hospitalization. This decision is ill-advised and irresponsible.

Given the risks associated with returning public servants to the office, as well as the environmental issues that will result, the Green Party of Canada encourages the government to maintain the current work-from-home model for most federal public servants. 

"Of course, there must be exceptions," says May, "such as when the needs of the job require a physical presence in a particular location for reasons of security or proximity to the public. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that the government can function even when its employees work from home, where they can maintain a better balance between work and family." 

"Many government buildings could also be better utilized. Why not revitalize the downtowns of Gatineau and Ottawa in other ways, such as turning these buildings into housing?" asked Jonathan Pedneault, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada. "This would be one solution among many to help address the housing crisis in the region without causing urban sprawl."

"Returning to the archaic and much more expensive model of working in a fixed office space is of no interest to the private sector in Canada," said Pedneault. "Why is the Liberal government at odds with its public servants, the private sector and common sense by ordering this return? It is simply out of step with the current economic reality and the government’s responsibility to act in a fiscally responsible manner towards Canadian taxpayers."

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Fabrice Lachance Nové
Press Secretary