Sunday, September 25, 2011

How To Save Money Harper Style

Someone once said that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch and bills you.  Whoever said that must have had experience with consulting firms like the one recently hired by the Canadian government.

Global News reported this past week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservative government is paying consulting firm Deloitte Inc. the sum of $90,000 per day to ... are you ready for this? ... advise them about how to save money.

Okay, let's get the obvious sarcastic retort out of the way.  "You want to save money?  Here's an idea; stop paying consulting firms $90,000 per day!"  Whew!  I feel better now.

The opening paragraph of the news story reads "The Harper government defended paying almost $90,000 a day to a big consulting firm for advice on how to save money, saying it can't do the job properly by itself."  Apparently not.  That has to be the most self-validating statement of all time!

All sarcasm aside, let's grant that there may be some validity to the concept of spending money in order to save money.  Ninety thousand dollars a day is an awful lot of money to spend.  That's $450,000 a week, $1.8 million a month.  What value will the Harper government be getting for this money?  What will Deloitte be doing that's worth $90,000 a day?  Writing reports?  It had better be some report!  What are the odds that Deloitte would have accepted the contract had they been offered $45,000 per day, or even $10,000 per day?  That's still pretty good revenue by most business standards.  How did the Harper government and Deloitte arrive at $90,000 per day?  Did the conservatives approach any other consulting firms?  Was there any sort of tender or competition?

Until recently, the Harper government had a knowledgeable, experienced consultant who provided many sensible suggestions for cutting waste and saving money.  Her name was Sheila Fraser.  She was Canada's Auditor General up until her recent retirement and, while she was no doubt well-paid, I suspect she didn't make anywhere near $90,000 a day.  Unfortunately, the Harper government chose to ignore pretty much everything she ever suggested.

I wonder what will happen should the ultimate irony unfold and Deloitte advises the Harper government not to throw away $30 billion for stealth fighter jets that aren't even suited to the Canadian Forces' requirements, or that there's no need to spend $4.4 billion on expanding prisons when stats show that the crime rate is diminishing, and there is no evidence that longer incarcerations are any sort of deterrent to the criminals that are out there.  Both of these projects are near and dear to the conservatives' hearts, and they've clung to them stubbornly despite strong public opposition and hard data showing both to be questionable initiatives at best.  What if their expensive new consultants agree that these are bad, financially wasteful ideas?

I started this post with a quote.  I'll end it with another from George Bernard Shaw who said "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."  The Harper government has validated that observation as well.

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