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Tony Clement's new task: Finding $4-billion

Tony Clement is sworn in as Treasury Board Presdient during a ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 18, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

One of the most important jobs in cabinet is going to Tony Clement, who is now in charge of cutting costs to erase the deficit within three years.

As President of the Treasury Board, Mr. Clement will have to quickly implement a plan first outlined in the government's March budget to save $4-billion a year in ongoing savings.

Mr. Clement has experience managing hot files. As industry minister, he was at the centre of last year's decision to reject BHP Billiton's attempted foreign takeover of Potash Corp.

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Now his job will be to take a very close look at how Ottawa spends. That will mean potentially controversial decisions over what programs to end and which positions in the public service should be left vacant through attrition.

Called the Strategic and Operating review, the process will be one of the most politically sensitive assignments for the Harper government.

The Treasury Board chief will lead a special committee of cabinet ministers who will receive advice from a panel of outside experts. Mr. Clement is chairman, Ted Menzies is vice-chair and six others fill out the subcommittee. They are Marjory LeBreton, Peter MacKay, Diane Finley, Christian Paradis, Lisa Raitt and Joe Oliver.

The plan - as described by government officials in the budget lockup - is for departments to submit two detailed plans to cabinet by fall: One that would see a cut of 5 per cent, and a second option for a 10-per-cent cut. The cabinet will then decide which option to approve. While some departments could be spared the knife entirely, the goal is to cut 5 per cent from the $80-billion in annual direct federal spending on government programs.

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