Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The bells... the bells... New clerk having tough time

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MILTON Sussman walks out of his new office at the Manitoba Legislative Building with a faint look of resignation on his face.

It's his second day on the job as the new clerk of the executive council, the top provincial bureaucrat for the Selinger government.

"It's my computer. It's needs updating," Sussman said Tuesday, closing the door to his anteroom to block the sound of the division bells that have been ringing on and off since mid-April.

Sussman, 62, replaces Paul Vogt, who recently resigned to return to the University of Manitoba to teach public policy. Vogt served as clerk and cabinet secretary since January 2005. He was unavailable for comment.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives declined to comment on Vogt's departure.

Premier Greg Selinger said Vogt served the province tirelessly, and Sussman said he's got "big shoes to fill."

Sussman is not new to government. He was appointed deputy minister of Health and Healthy Living in 2001 and worked in that position for four years. He then moved to Family Services and Housing for two years. He next went back to work at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, where he was before 2001, as chief operating officer and vice-president of community health services. Three years ago he came back as deputy minister of Health under Health Minister Theresa Oswald.

Prior to public service, he worked at Ten Ten Sinclair, a Garden City-area housing centre for people with physical disabilities.

In Health, Sussman was given the task of controlling spending in a department that eats up about 40 per cent of the province's budget. Spending in Health was increasing at more than six per cent a year.

Sussman was told to nip it, but not at the expense of front-line services.

He did.

His job now is to do that with all government departments. Reduce waste. Reduce overlap. Increase productivity. And engage everyone involved so there's buy-in to ratchet down costs and improve services at the same time.

"We've taken, I think, an aggressive approach to looking at ways to make it more sustainable without the traditional slash and burn that happened in the '90s and that happens in other countries," Sussman said of spending in Health, which has now flattened despite the demands of an aging population and government policy to hire more nurses and physicians.

He must also do it as Manitoba is projected to see an operating shortfall of $518 million this year, the government's fifth consecutive deficit.

"One of the high priorities that the premier has talked to me about is how do we make it sustainable? How do we actually address the fiscal constraints that we have and the service demands? How do we do it in a way that actually provides better service to people, but isn't, again, one that isn't looking to cut services or dramatically impair the quality of those services?"

Sussman said part of that is setting specific targets, monitoring it closely and sharing the results so those involved see what's happening.

He also said he can't let the current political stalemate distract him. That stalemate, including the now twice-daily ringing of the bells to call MLAs to a house vote, is into its third month. "If I'm going to be effective, I've got to be able to put my head down and keep going," he said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 A4

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