Axe-wielding executives in the public service stand to earn big bonuses based on how much they cut in the run-up to the 2012 federal budget.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement says 40 per cent of "at risk" pay for senior managers will be based on how much they contribute to the Conservatives' target of finding at least $4-billion a year in permanent savings.
This is the first year the performance-based incentive has ever been tied to government cuts, and Mr. Clement says the 2012 budget – likely to be tabled in February or March – will be the ultimate yardstick for doling out the rewards.
"In terms of measuring the goal [for receiving extra pay]in terms of our government-wide objective of deficit reduction, that crystallizes with the 2012 budget," Mr. Clement said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
While the budget is still at least four months away, it's crunch time for a special cabinet committee chaired by Mr. Clement that must go through restraint plans from every federal department. Each department must submit two proposals: one for a 5-per-cent cut and another outlining what a 10-per-cent cut would look like.
One union leader said he's concerned financial rewards may encourage managers to go too far in their hunt for cuts. "There's a potential to be a little overzealous," said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Salaries for federal executives (not including deputy ministers) range from $101,100 to $191,900, and "at risk" pay – based on performance – can range as high as an additional 20 per cent. Bonuses of up to 6 per cent are also offered.
Mr. Clement will be describing Canada's experience with stimulus spending and deficit reduction in a speech to Washington's Chamber of Commerce later this week. The two-day trip will also include meetings with senior members of the White House's Open Government Initiative.
Drawing inspiration from the Obama administration's efforts, Ottawa is planning to make far more internal documents, statistics and spending plans freely available to the public as part of its own "open government" plan.
The Harper government has faced heavy criticism over the years for its tight grip on information – including major parliamentary battles over Afghan detainee documents and the cost of federal crime bills – but Mr. Clement insists more transparency is coming.
By early next year, he expects that all information released by federal departments in response to access-to-information requests will be easily available online. That would replace the current system, which can be highly cumbersome for the public to find out what information has been released to individual requesters. The process became even more challenging in 2008 after the government shut down a registry that tracked government-wide access-to-information requests.
The minister's visit to Washington comes at a pivotal time in U.S. politics as Democrats and Republicans square off over the need for a second wave of stimulus spending and the question of whether tax increases should be part of a long-term plan to reduce the deficit. Mr. Clement says he plans to stay out of those debates.
He intends to highlight Canada's efforts to follow the U.S. lead by putting more raw government data online, noting that private-sector firms like Google have successfully used open-data files in the U.S. to create new services like public-transit tips.
One aspect of Canada's "open government" push was quietly launched in August. For the first time ever, all government departments released quarterly spending reports showing whether or not they are on budget. That information allowed The Globe to report that the Correctional Service of Canada was spending more than $450-million this year to implement a single Conservative crime bill, the Truth in Sentencing Act.
Mr. Clement said by sharing the information that government uses to make decisions, citizens can become more informed and engaged on public policy issues.
"You can get into this whole world of crowd-sourcing where rather than it just [being]cabinet committees or caucuses deciding policy, you could get the public that are engaged in a particular issue to help come up with options or even help make decisions," he said. "That to me is the ultimate future of open government."