Nfld. & Labrador

Cost-conscious consultant to be brought in to scrutinize public services

The Newfoundland and Labrador government, grappling with a billion-dollar deficit even after hiking takes and cutting spending, will bring in an external expert to take a cold, hard look at its books.
Finance Minister Ross Wiseman delivered Newfoundland and Labrador's latest, and largest, budget on Thursday. (CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government, grappling with a billion-dollar deficit even after hiking takes and cutting spending, will bring in an external expert to take a cold, hard look at its books.

Finance Minister Ross Wiseman announced the measure during Thursday's budget speech, as part of what he called a move to build a "culture of cost management" in the public service.

"This consultant will help us answer questions such as, Why does it cost 45 per cent more in this province than in certain other jurisdictions to deliver the services people need?" Wiseman told the House of Assembly.

Weeks ago, the government issued a confidential request for proposals (RFP) that had been due back on April 9.

Speaking earlier with reporters, Wiseman said officials expect to meet with a short list of candidates who could do the review.

The RFP says government has already asked every department, agency, board and commission to "propose options to reduce the deficit over the next five years."

But Wiseman said the review is aimed at looking at why Newfoundland and Labrador ranks below other provinces in terms of overall efficiency.

'Core question not yet answered'

"That's a core question that's not yet been answered," said Wiseman, adding that government needs a critical look at its services, including what he admits has been a "phenomenal" increase in spending on the public service.

"We've never really benchmarked ourselves," Wiseman said.

The announcement is the latest move that the Tories have taken to oversee government, and comes on the heels of both a core mandate review that was done internally and a prior long-range plan that has now been superseded by a five-year plan aimed at returning to economic growth and surplus budgets by 2020.

Wiseman added that the consultant will need to take account of the province's small and aging population, and the fact that many rural communities are spread out over a large area.

Wiseman said the government must ensure that taxpayers are getting their money's worth in public services.

"In everything we do as a government, we must ensure that the people of the province are seeing top value for the tax dollars we are spending to serve them," he said.

Health spending deemed 'unsustainable'

With the social sector accounting for the majority of the government's spending, the government is putting a focus on reigning in what it spends on health care, which Wiseman described as "unsustainable."

But it's not just health-care that is under the microscope: practically every element of public spending will come under some form of scrutiny.

For instance,  the government – just a day after giving municipalities a long-sought portion of tax revenue – said it is opening the door to a new form of regional government.

A new advisory committee, Wiseman said, will "explore the potential for a new regional governance structure" that is connected to a government "focus on regional clusters." By the end of the year, consultations are expected on a new model for municipal governance. 

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