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Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government has ordered more than $16-million worth of studies by private consultants since coming to power, seeking advice on everything from health system reforms and cannabis retailing to the sustainability of the horse racing industry.

The close to 20 studies tabulated by the Free Press are by no means an exhaustive list -- all governments engage outside experts on numerous issues -- but include some of the more high-profile efforts by the Tories to enlist help to shape policy and/or drive down costs.

It includes KPMG reviews of the sustainability of the health-care system and the government's fiscal performance, each at a cost of $750,000, and a recently awarded contract worth $6.3 million to Pricewaterhouse Coopers to review government tendering practices.

Provincial studies

Health System Sustainability & Innovation Review (KPMG)

Cost: $749,000

Timeline: announced November 2016, completed in January 2017 (Phase 1) and March 2017 (Phase 2)

Made public: partially released December 2017

Virgo Mental Health and Addictions Review

Cost: $194,050

Timeline: completed March 31

Made public: yes

Health System Sustainability & Innovation Review (KPMG)

Cost: $749,000

Timeline: announced November 2016, completed in January 2017 (Phase 1) and March 2017 (Phase 2)

Made public: partially released December 2017

Virgo Mental Health and Addictions Review

Cost: $194,050

Timeline: completed March 31

Made public: yes

Health Wait Times Task Force

Cost: $150,000

Timeline: completed November 2017

Made public: yes

Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review (KPMG)

Cost: $750,000

Timeline: released October 2017

Made public: yes (with limited exceptions relating to confidentiality of contributors)

Pricewaterhouse Coopers Procurement Modernization Strategy

Cost: $6.3 million

Timeline: announced October, three-year initiative

Made public: details to come, government says

Constitutional opinion from Brian Schwartz on carbon pricing

Cost: $40,000

Timeline: announced August 2017, completed October 2017

Made public: yes

KPMG P3 Business Case – Manitoba Schools Project

Cost: $287,000

Timeline: announced August 2017, to have been completed December 2017

Made public: province promises to do so in future

Economic Development Strategy (Deloitte LLP)

Cost: $150,000

Timeline: completed December 2017

Made public: yes

Look North Consultation

Cost: $63,714

Timeline: completed October 2017

Made public: yes

Optimus/SBR Fairness Report (Cannabis retail)

Cost: $17,386

Timeline: completed July

Made public: yes

MLT Aikins Policy Review of Workplace Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policies, Practices and Procedures

Cost: $46,000

Timeline: announced February 2018, completed summer 2018

Made public: yes

Boston Consulting financial review of Manitoba Hydro

Cost: About $4.3 million

Timeline: completed September 2016

Made public: yes

Economic review of Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask and Bipole III projects, conducted by Gordon Campbell

Cost: $2.5 million

Timeline: announced October, to be completed by December 2019

Made public: It will be, government says

Fisheries review by Signature Mediation

Cost: $150,000

Timeline: reported from October 2016 to March 2017, posted November 2017

Made public: yes

Sustainability review of Manitoba Horse Racing Industry

Cost: $135,000

Timeline: report is completed

Made public: government plans to release it soon

Colleges review by Higher Education Associates

Cost: $207,000

Timeline: announced June 2017, completed March

Made public: yes

Social Impact Bonds strategy by MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

Cost: $150,000

Timeline: announced October 2017, to begin in early 2018

Made public: no

CancerCare Manitoba Operational Review

Cost: unknown

Timeline: to be awarded in January, report due 12 weeks later

Made public: minister has said it will not be released

Total: $16.2 million

-- sources: government of Manitoba, media reports, freedom of information requests

Not all consultant contracts that have made the news are high-cost. For instance, the government paid University of Manitoba law Prof. Brian Schwartz $40,000 last year for a constitutional opinion, as it devised its made-in-Manitoba carbon pricing plan.

The latest high-profile external study to come to light is the proposed operational review of CancerCare Manitoba. A request for proposals has been issued, and the government plans to award the contract in late January. No cost estimates have been released.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding says the studies are needed because the previous NDP government "systematically mismanaged the province for 17 years," costing taxpayers a fortune.

"As a result, we are calling on experts to provide their advice on fixing the province’s finances on a number of fronts and strengthening the services Manitobans rely on," he said in a statement.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding


Finance Minister Scott Fielding

"We will continue to seek expertise, new ideas and best practices that are globally recognized."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the danger of hiring outside consultants is decisions on health care, for instance, are being made by accountants, as opposed to health-care experts.

"The decisions (are) just being made by somebody looking at a spreadsheet," Kinew said.

That has led to recommendations that may produce short-term savings but may wind up leading to higher long-term costs, he said.

He cited a recommendation to reduce government-funded physiotherapy services as an example. Cutting physiotherapy services could lead to repeat hospitalizations and greater long-term system costs, not to mention reducing the patient’s quality of life, the NDP leader said.

Winnipeg political scientist Paul Thomas said there has been a trend in recent years by governments to rely increasingly on outside consultants as they reduce the number of in-house policy analysts.

New governments such as Manitoba’s -- was elected in 2016 -- tend to use outside consultants more than more established administrations because they may fear senior bureaucrats will resist reforms, he said.

Outside consultants tend to "do the bidding of the political masters," Thomas said. "If you’re in the consulting business, you don’t want to burn your bridges by saying to government, ‘There’s far less money to be saved here, and these programs are not as bad as you think they are.'

"Many of the studies being requisitioned by governments today are efficiency or value-for-money audits," Thomas said.

The large consulting firms will first send in accountants and business experts to come up with a game plan, and then offer the services of more broadly trained policy and management consulting experts within the same firm to implement it.

"It’s become a real growth industry within the public sector," Thomas said.

A review by the Free Press shows the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Finance spend the most of any government departments and branches on consulting services.



Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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