Conservative cabinet ministers should tighten their own belts first as they look to slash government spending, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said Tuesday.
At a morning news conference, Rae took aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers, saying they have allowed spending by their own offices to skyrocket, yet are now "preaching restraint" as the government tries to eliminate the deficit.
Rae said the expanding size of Harper's cabinet, the increase in salaries and benefits for ministers and their staff and an "explosion" in spending on advertising and consulting all add up to a failure by the government to set a good example for Canadians.
"There's a major problem of consistency and credibility," said Rae. "This is not a government of restraint when it comes to themselves."
He cited statistics to show how the budgets for ministers' offices have risen in the last few years. The salary for a minister's press secretary, for example, has increased from $73,000 to $105,000, said Rae.
Rae said there's a "clear double-standard" and that the government shouldn't ask Canadians to practice restraint if they aren't doing it themselves.
The government has pledged to erase the deficit by 2014-2015 and is undertaking a widespread spending review to find the savings. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned when he delivered his budget on June 6, that cutting government programs is inevitable. Treasury Board President Tony Clement is overseeing the spending review, which is aiming to find $4 billion in annual savings by the time the cuts are complete.
Clement has been the target of opposition criticism because of the G8 legacy infrastructure fund that was a main subject of the auditor general's spring report released last week. The fund spent $50 million in Clement's riding on 32 different projects. The government says the projects helped prepare the Huntsville, Ont., region to host the summit, spruce up the Muskoka region to showcase it to foreign dignitaries and media and to thank the area for hosting the meeting.
The auditor general's report said Clement recommended what projects should be chosen to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who was infrastructure minister at the time and in charge of the G8 fund, but provided no documentation on how or why the 32 projects were selected out of more than 200 proposals from communities. No bureaucrats were involved in creating the fund or helping to choose the projects, the audit found, which interim auditor general John Wiersema said was troubling.
Rae said the G8 legacy fund is another example of government waste, yet Clement is talking about trimming fat from government spending.
"All Mr. Clement has to do is look in the mirror," he said. "Look in the mirror Mr. Clement and look in the mirror Mr. Harper."