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Government jobs still bleeding out of city.

The transfer of eight federal fisheries employees out of Sault Ste. Marie has city officials and politicians wondering if the exodus of civil servants from the community is still continuing.

As well, a proposed $7-million fisheries research centre slated for construction on the Sault's waterfront is on indefinite hold while the federal government considers other alternatives, including moving fisheries personnel and labs into vacant space at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre.

Former FedNor Minister Andy Mitchell announced the centre's construction last November in the run-up to the January federal election. The building was to be the first tenant of a larger effort to establish a proposed forestry research park that would include an Invasive Species Centre on the city's waterfront.

City of Sault Ste. Marie chief planner Don McConnell says the loss of eight fisheries jobs may seem trivial, but it appears to be part of a continuous siphoning off of federal government jobs through attrition or transfers to other cities.

Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) were not available for comment prior to Northern Ontario Business deadline, but city officials have learned that eight jobs in the Fish Habitat Group have been moved to Sudbury and Parry Sound, leaving two positions remaining in town.

"Fish Habitat? I didn't know Sudbury was on one of the Great Lakes," McConnell remarks.

The city has documented through federal census numbers that between 1991 and 2001, 345 federal jobs have been lost, dropping from 705 to 360 in that span. They have no employment numbers on individual departments.

McConnell says based on the average federal employee's income in 2001 that translates to $14.3 million in payroll lost to the community.

"Federal and provincial government jobs are a key component of our economy. They're solid, good-paying and normally permanent jobs and (to) reduce the impact by half--going from a payroll of $30 million a year to $14 million--that has a big hit on everybody."

City councillors are requesting that Sault MP Tony Martin schedule a meeting with new Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn to discuss a reconsideration of the decision to re-locate those DFO employees and to review future plans of all DFO operations in Sault Ste. Marie.

Martin says he intends to meet this spring with the new FedNor minister, Parry Sound MP Tony Clement, to make a case before the new government to stop the downsizing of the civil service and the out-migration of federal jobs from the city.

"We've lost half of our federal complement of civil service since (the early 1990's). For the federal government to look at removing even more is very troubling.

"We have to stop that trend and we have a chance with the new government."

Martin says the decision to review the new DFO building demonstrates "a lack of consideration of the impact that has on an area that is economically challenged."

He says the Sea Lamprey Control Centre isn't in jeopardy, but supporting components are being lost.

"We're going to be making a case ... in partnership with all three levels to have an Invasive Species Centre set up here and a new building would make sense in that context."

The proposed stand-alone building was to be located on Queen Street East between the two government forestry and insect labs, the Ministry of Natural Resources' Ontario Forest Research Institute (OFRI) and National Resources Canada's (NRCan) Great Lakes Forestry Centre.

The project was tentatively to start construction this summer with the ribbon-cutting date set for 2008.

It would house a new and expanded Sea Lamprey Centre and would corral all the federal fisheries programs and researchers together under one roof.

John Hammond, a Burlington-based real estate advisor with Public Works and Government Services Canada, says the 1960s-era Sea Lamprey Control at the Sault Heritage Canal is obsolete and crowded. The government is examining replacement opportunities including building on the NRCan site at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre.

"NRCan has suggested a portion of that development be located within the existing building."

A feasibility study is underway.

Once the architects and engineers get their information, "there will be some construction," says Hammond, who is working with DFO as Sault project manager.

A preliminary design envisions two compounds, with an east compound of offices and labs within existing space, and a west compound of new construction housing storage facilities and workshops.

"The west compound will be all new construct. The project is still a go and we're just looking at a slightly different configuration."

Hammond says the proposed Science Enterprise Algoma research park promoting scientific exchange is being championed by NRCan, and is one reason DFO wanted to re-locate on the site.

www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca

www.city.sault-ste-marie.on.ca

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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