User fees an 'option' in budget review

The man in charge of leading government budget cuts laid out the broad strokes of how it will happen Wednesday, even raising the option of user fees.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement laid out the broad sketches of how he wants to see government departments cut their budgets by five or 10 per cent in a bid to save $4 billion a year. (The Canadian Press)

The man in charge of leading government budget cuts laid out the broad strokes of how it will happen Wednesday in front of an audience of senior civil servants.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister in charge of the public service, said the Conservatives will be taking a page from the private sector as they look for $4 billion in permanent annual savings in program spending, in an attempt to balance the federal budget.

And he asked his audience to consider "a range of options," including user fees, as they conducted program reviews.

"This is the first time in 15 years that government has conducted a review of this scope. In the business world, looking at streamlining operations is an annual exercise – business as usual," he said, according to remarks posted on the Treasury Board website.

"So we are looking to work smarter, better, and faster."

Clement says there are fundamental questions all 67 departments and agencies will have to ask in the attempt to cut five to 10 per cent from each budget.

"Should we still be doing this — and doing it in this way? Does this have to be delivered by this organization? Why does it cost as much as it does? Can we find savings? Is it achieving the expected results efficiently? Is this a government priority, and is it affordable during a period of fiscal restraint? Are we achieving value for money?" he said.

The government wants to balance the budget by 2014-15 and wants to be able to start counting the savings starting in the 2012-13 budget.

The spending review is to look at all operating expenses, including wages, salaries, and professional services contracts, plus grants and contributions, capital, and payments to Crown Corporations, Clement said.

"But I do want to make one thing very clear: this review will not touch major transfers to provinces, territories and individuals. Nor will it look at public debt charges," he added.

Don't rule out user fees: Clement

Perhaps controversially for a government that is decidedly against raising taxes, Clement said departments shouldn't rule out user fees.

"We are encouraging departments to develop a full range of options in areas such as administrative and program efficiencies, business consolidation and user fees. Some of this may require legislative or machinery changes," Clement said.

The government is also looking at sharing services between departments, he said.