The upcoming federal budget will mark the start of a "culture shift" in Ottawa from "spending enablers" to "cost containers," Treasury Board President Tony Clement says.

Clement, the minister responsible for finding anywhere from $4 billion to $8 billion in annual savings as part of the government's plan to reduce the deficit and balance the books, made the comments in a speech to Conservatives gathered at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa on Saturday.

He said everyone who works in government ought to ask themselves not only how they can do their job to the best of their ability but also how they can do it "in an excellent way at less cost to the taxpayers."

The way to do that is "by changing the incentives and rewards, and by changing the internal governance and accountability that should be felt at every level," Clement said.

"If you take nothing else from my talk this morning, please take this: We are working to change the culture in official Ottawa from one of spending enablers to one of cost containers."

"The take-home lesson is to ingrain this idea of efficient and constrained use of tax dollars on a day-to-day basis, at every level, from the politician all the way down to the proverbial mail clerk, at every level of bureaucracy."

Clement predicted the government will face "resistance" from "public sector union bosses" who he said would be "working hand-in-hand with the NDP Opposition."

"Their goal is simply to perpetuate the status quo," he said. "Their only solutions seem to be: hire more, tax more, spend more."

In a written statement to CBC News on Saturday, NDP spokesperson Karl Belanger said: "As the Conservatives are getting ready to cut services to Canadians and gut the fiscal capacity of the government to help people, the NDP will keep standing up against their narrow-minded, ideologically driven approach, and keep working to defend Canadian working families."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said there will be no "draconian measures" in the budget he will present March 29. But public-sector unions have warned of widespread cuts resulting in the loss of "tens of thousands" — numbers Flaherty has rejected.

While Clement did not reveal any details of the budget, he said the review was "not just about finding savings, but also a tool by which we can help to modernize government."

Clement also spoke about cutting red tape as a way to help businesses grow and invest for the future, and the open government initiative as a way to make government more transparent and accountable.

Cuts to the public service

Clement's remarks come on the heels of a federal report on the public service that was released Thursday.

The report clearly indicates that public-sector layoffs will be a part of the government's cost-cutting plans.

"We are conscious that the Public Service is on the verge of significant changes, driven in part by the immediate requirements of deficit reduction, but also by a more fundamental need to renew public institutions for the future," said the report by the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service.

The committee is co-chaired by former Privy Council clerk Paul Tellier and former Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson. It is the sixth report of its kind since the committee was established in 2006.

"One of the major tasks that senior leaders will face is the deliberate downsizing of the Public Service," states the committee.


By the numbers:

  • The year 2011 generated projected savings of $1.570 billion in program spending in 13 departments by 2013–14.
  • The government’s actions to reduce growth in operating expenses were projected to save $0.9 billion by 2011–12 and $1.8 billion by 2012–13.
  • This was the second consecutive year in which there was no growth in the size of the public service.
  • In the 2012 budget, departments and agencies will learn the details of their contribution to the government’s deficit reduction action plan.

Source: Sixth report of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service

The report goes on to state that it is "essential" that the government invest in long-term thinking.

 "As Ministers move to implement the deficit reduction action plan, they must protect essential policy and research capacity."

The committee acknowledges that changes inside the public service will affect "many people's lives" and recommends that this vision be "communicated regularly and openly" with employees by the leadership of the public service and politicians alike.

And with respect to public sector unions, "frank and productive dialogue between labour and management can generate results that serve the interests of both sides," the report says. "This kind of dialogue must continue."

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, a spokesperson for the Public Service Alliance of Canada said "the government isn't consulting anyone in this process."

"It is foolish to pretend that Canadians must choose between a strong economy and good public services," said Alain Cossette from PSAC. "They have the right to expect both."