The Ontario government has trimmed $25 million in spending by cancelling food at cabinet meetings, and limiting expenses and travel for public servants as part of a broader push to find efficiencies, says Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy.
“Through our wholesale review of the government’s discretionary spending practices … (and) by spending less on things like travel, meals and hospitality, our government has saved taxpayers over $25 million dollars, which is money that can now be directed to the vital, front-line services that families across Ontario depend on every day,” Bethlenfalvy said in announcing the results of the government’s new restraint measures last Friday.
“One thing I’m particularly proud to share … is that we’ve saved roughly $77,000 by cancelling catering for cabinet and committee meetings” in the past year, he added. “You know, tightening our belts starts at the top. And it’s changes like this one that highlight the new approach at Queen’s Park.”
The frugal measures were implemented in 2018, and include finding the “lowest fare available” for air or train travel and staying in less expensive hotels outside of downtown cores. Three sets of rules cover public servants and politicians, their staff, as well as the broader public sector.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said while “there’s no doubt you’ve got to watch everything — it’s public money and you’ve got to respect it,” the government continues to waste millions in other areas.
“When you put that beside the $231 million in costs for tearing up green energy contracts, when you put that beside $30 million to take the federal government to court on a losing battle against climate change — those are the big ticket items. These things pale in comparison.”
While it is important “to be cost thoughtful and watch expenses — absolutely, that’s how I was raised,” added Horwath. “At the same time. it seems a bit rich to suggest that these kinds of measures in some way balance out the huge expenses they are gathering up … those are public dollars as well, and they should be looking at those big fish.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said while public dollars need to be spent wisely, it’s “disrespectful to spend $231 million to cancel contracts and expect people to then pat you on the back for saving money on lunches.”
The savings over one year include: $9 million on hotels/accommodations, $7 million in air travel, $2.5 million on food, and $1 million on “unnecessary” hospitality claims. Some $40,000 was trimmed using video conferencing to avoid travel for in-person meetings.
The changes have led to a one-third reduction in discretionary spending, to “the lowest levels in a decade,” Bethlenfalvy added.
“The money we’ve saved here is enough to cover a week’s worth of groceries for more than 200,000 Ontario families,” he said.
Another round of new rules to tighten eligible expenses will come into place Jan. 1.
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