There is a clear theme developing during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons – one that seems likely to continue well into the fall and perhaps all the way to the NDP leadership vote in March.
Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel asks the government why it is not doing more about jobs, inflation and the economy. And the government responds that Canada is doing so much better than the rest of the world and everything is fine.
Well, okay, perhaps not exactly fine. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty conceded at one point Wednesday after he was asked similar questions by his NDP critic, Peggy Nash, that the unemployment rate is still to high. “But,” he said, “it’s much better than that in the United States and that hasn’t happened in more than a generation.”
Both the New Democrats and the Liberals took issue with the fact that the government is paying $90,000 a day to a management consulting firm, Deloitte Inc., to advise cabinet and senior officials on how to erase the federal deficit by 2014-15.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said government spending on outside professional services, including consultants has risen to more $10-billion from $7.2-billion. He asked Mr. Flaherty what he thought the chances where “that the $20-million consultants he’s just hired are going to come back and say: ‘You know what a good way is to save money? Cut the use of consultants.’”
Mr. Flaherty replied that it is important to have outside experts look at government spending. “Government should not be sole judge of the way it’s run. We need advice from outside,” the Finance Minister said.
Later, in answer to a similar question from NDP MP Jean Crowder, Mr. Flaherty said there is some waste in government that can be reduced. And for “the cost of every $1 of spending on experts, we expect $200 of savings, which is a pretty good deal.”
Following a line of inquiry that started earlier in the week, both opposition parties also wanted to know about cuts to Service Canada, which they say will hurt both seniors and people applying for Employment Insurance.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley replied that the government is modernizing – moving from a paper-based to system to a less costly one that is computerized, which will allow government workers to spend more time dealing directly with people.
Ms. Finley also explained that her department had taken on extra staff during the recent recession to deal with a backlog of the EI claims. “Those people were hired on a temporary basis, they were hired only to process EI claims,” she said.
But Roger Cuzner of the Liberals was not going to let that lie. He called the plans to cut the number of people who process Employment Insurance claims in places where there is still high unemployment, like Gander and Glace Bay, a “dumb, mean spirited, ludicrous” idea.
Decorum in the House has taken a slight downturn in the three days since the summer break ended. But perhaps everyone will be on their best behaviour when the British Prime Minister pays a visit on Thursday.