Toronto

Ontario minister hopes cutting paper will spread 'like wildfire' at Queen's Park

Many companies have cut down on using paper, or scrapped it altogether, choosing to share their records digitally or online, and now Ontario's Treasury Board Secretariat is joining them.

Former Liberals say PCs taking credit for initiative already in place by previous government

Peter Bethlenfalvy, Treasury Board president, came from the private sector where he became used to board meetings with no paper. (CBC)

Many companies have cut down on using paper, or scrapped it altogether, choosing to share their records digitally or online, and now one Ontario government ministry is joining them.

The Treasury Board Secretariat will not go completely paperless, but it is cutting out paper for its meetings and briefings, at a projected savings of $26,200 a year.

It's one of a number of initiatives to be announced Wednesday by Peter Bethlenfalvy, treasury board president, during a noon hour speech at the Empire Club on his vision for government in the digital age.

It's not a big cost cut for a government that has estimated its annual deficit at $15 billion, but he believes it will lead to similar changes in other ministries.

"We're talking about millions of dollars," Bethlenfalvy said, when asked about the potential savings across the Ontario government if that were to happen.

His ministry also estimates a positive outcome for the environment, with a reduction of 166,500 pages of paper, saving the equivalent of 17 trees and 54 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

However, two former Liberal cabinet ministers said this seems to be the Progressive Conservatives taking credit for changes already put into motion by the previous provincial government. 

"This is old news," said Deb Matthews, a former treasury board president, who contacted CBC Toronto on Wednesday after reading an earlier version of this story. 

"A couple years ago we were all paperless at treasury board and moving toward being paperless at cabinet and all the other committees," she said. 

Her former colleague, Yasir Naqvi, said he was an early adopter of going paperless, first trying it out as part of a committee that did a pilot project three years ago, then expanding that to cabinet documents.

"I started insisting we get Ipads," he said, explaining that it was easier than hauling binders back and forth to his riding in Ottawa.  

'It was like wildfire'

In the current PC government, Bethlenfalvy believes a larger paperless switch across the entire government will happen, comparing it to when one ministry's staff got rid of its landlines.

"It was like wildfire. It went from one office to the next, it was like who could get rid of their landline fastest," Bethenfalvy said.

He said the ministry will need more laptops as it moves toward digital, but doesn't envision extra costs there, as it plans to buy the new computers over time to replace its current desktop models.

Bethenfalvy looks forward to not having to carry around a thick binder stuffed with papers to every board meeting and said ditching the binders also signifies a time saving for staff who've had to put them together.

His ministry projects a total savings of 64 working days in a year, or more than $18,000.

Bethlenfalvy said that will not mean a job cut but instead allowing staff to focus on other work.

Treasury Board eyes going fully paperless in the future

Government documents provided to CBC News by the Treasury Board show that later this month, the secretariat plans to review more opportunities to go paperless, then announce any further initiatives in January.

To Bethenfalvy, this is just step one. He envisions a fully paperless office, like he became accustomed to working in the private sector. 

"Most board meetings that I've ever been involved with don't have any paper."

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