Clement was grilled for an hour in front of a House of Commons committee on the government's spending initiatives and plans to find $4 billion in annual cuts by 2014-15, as well as the looming chop to the auditor-general's budget.
The minister and his officials also faced several questions on why the federal government will spend at least $360 million this year on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's nuclear reactor division that it just sold for only $15 million plus royalties.
As the government searches for savings, Clement faced questions on why he's looking to streamline a federal auditor-general's office that's facing an eight per cent cut to its budget and 10 per cent chop to its staff. The auditor-general will also stop performing some basic financial audits of close to 20 federal boards, agencies and commissions. "We know that [the AG's office] has been very useful in the past ... why are you planning on cutting the office of the auditor-general? Doesn't it save taxpayers money?" asked NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat.
Clement said he recognizes the independence of the auditor-general's office but sent letters to the officers of Parliament to see if they, like federal departments and agencies, could voluntarily trim their budgets between five per cent and 10 per cent.
The minister said interim auditor-general John Wiersema communicated that he was "quite keen" to cut the auditor-general's budget, "understanding that per-haps the auditor-general has to lead by example in some cases." The Harper government is conducting an ongoing operating review that is searching for $1 billion in cuts for next year, $2 billion for 2013-14, and $4 billion by 2014-15. Nearly 70 government departments and agencies are required to submit scenarios for a five and 10 per cent cut to their budgets.
To help find savings across government, Treasury Board is spending millions of dollars on external consultants for their expertise, but the NDP questioned the value of the hired help and why public servants can't do the work.
"It's just a little bit difficult for Canadians to understand why you're cutting in public service jobs while you're giving money to external consultants by the boatload," Ravignat added.
The Conservative government is paying Deloitte Consulting nearly $20 million - almost $90,000 a day - to advise the cabinet and senior officials until next spring on how to find savings to balance the books in the coming years.
Clement said the external consultants are meant to pro-vide a fresh set of eyes on government spending and improve federal programs and services.
He stressed the government hasn't made any final decisions on cuts, although some could be announced in the spring budget.
"We're not looking at it from an ideological point of view. We're looking at it from a common sense point of view to see whether there's a practical, pragmatic way to deliver better ser-vices to Canadians," he said.
Clement and senior department officials faced repeated questions on why the federal government is spending at least $360 million this year (including workforce transition costs) on AECL's nuclear reactor division it just sold for $15 million plus royalties to SNC-Lavalin.
Source: Vancouver Sun