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Minister Bill Bennett to examine public-sector costs

Liberal MLA Bill Bennett leaves Caucus after the release of John Dyble's report on the use of government resources in Victoria, B.C., Thursday March 14, 2013.


The B.C. minister charged with cutting costs says he's declaring war on excessive or overly generous bonus-based management pay in the public sector, and will try to scrap any rewards he deems inappropriate.

Premier Christy Clark ordered the core review in June to look for ways to save money and find efficiencies in government.

Bill Bennett, talking on Wednesday about the terms of reference, said voters expect him to look at public-sector executives and management during the process, which is supposed to wrap up by Dec. 31, 2014.

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"One of the things that I am going to be looking for are examples of excessive or unfair bonus-based pay. I hope I don't find anything but if we do, we're going to get rid of it," Mr. Bennett, who is also Energy Minister, told reporters in Vancouver.

Mr. Bennett also left open the possibility of bringing contracted-out services back into government or outsourcing more government services.

"I've decided I don't want to put any sort of ideological or political lens on this exercise so if there were some service to the public that was being provided [privately] that could be provided more efficiently to the taxpayer by bringing it back inside government, we definitely would consider that, but we'll also consider the reverse."

David Vipond, negotiations director for the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, said his organization is as interested in efficiency as the government, and would make the case for bringing services back into government.

Mr. Bennett was responding to a question from Mr. Vipond, standing among reporters, about the issue when he talked about services.

Mr. Bennett is under orders to trim $50-million per fiscal year out of about $44-billion in government spending, but argued the mission is more about incubating new ideas for efficient government than hacking away dollars.

For one thing, he said the Liberals did a more sweeping core review after coming to office in 2001 that has left little to cut.

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"We've been 12 years already reviewing Crown corporations, reviewing ministry expenditures and ministry programs. I know, as a minister, I've had seven different portfolios and in probably every single one, I've been told I need to find 10 per cent or 20 per cent or 30 per cent," he said.

"We've gone through that process for several years. I am not expecting to find a lot of dollars to cut."

He added: "I think it's actually wiser for us to focus on doing things better and smarter than it is to try and find low-hanging fruit and fat."

Specifically, Mr. Bennett's orders include assessing government responsibilities and eliminating programs that could be provided effectively at less cost through alternative service delivery as well as ensuring public-sector management wage levels are appropriate.

There are some boundaries around services for vulnerable British Columbians. "The Core Review process will not make recommendations on those services provided to the most vulnerable of citizens except to the extent that they are not achieving intended results," said a ministry statement.

Shane Simpson, the B.C. NDP critic for core review, said such commitments did not protect residents of the province back in 2001 and the government should list vulnerable groups now to make the promise more relevant.

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He also said the government needs to be clearer about how citizens and community groups can participate in the process.

Over all, Mr. Simpson said the terms laid out Wednesday are too vague and that the detailed program due by the end of August would be more relevant to discussion.

By the end of the summer, a cabinet working group is supposed to approve a plan for consulting those affected by the cuts.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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