The provincial government hired former auditor general and failed Tory candidate John Noseworthy to find efficiencies in the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, but his recommendations won’t be included in this year’s provincial budget.
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea said Noseworthy’s report has nothing to do with the deep spending cuts the government is making as part of the 2013 budget.
“I don’t want to confuse the current budget exercise with the business transformation report because they’re separate exercises,” Shea said. “The business transformation process had to happen as they’re bringing the new department together. The budget process had to happen to deal with the budget issues that we have this year. So they were two mutually exclusive exercises.”
Noseworthy quit his job as auditor general in the summer of 2011 to run for the PC party in the fall general election. He failed to win a seat in the legislature.
Five months after the election, Shea hired him for a $150,000 consulting contract without publicly advertising the job or doing any sort of competition.
His task was to study the Department of Advanced Education and Skills — a marriage of the former Department of Human Resource, Labour and Employment, along with the post-secondary education parts of the Department of Education.
“We didn’t have to do it, we could have just brought the two separate units together and just operated under one department and just carried on as usual,” Shea said. “We wanted to have a better-integrated department because we felt that there were programs and services coming over from advanced education that fit very well with the former department of HRLE, and we wanted to find those synergies and how we work together.”
Just before Christmas, Noseworthy delivered his “business transformation” report, and gave a presentation to top bureaucrats in the department, but Shea wasn’t able to take it in because she was tied up in the House of Assembly.
Shea said she can’t remember exactly when she did end up getting the presentation from Noseworthy — “probably sometime in February” — but at that point, she sent him back to do some more work.
All this comes at a time when Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy is looking for all departments to make spending cuts to mitigate a $1.6 billion deficit forecast for 2013.
But while Shea said the report suggests ways to be “more efficient” she said it came too late to be part of the department’s budget considerations.
“It would have played a bigger role, possibly, if the report had been finalized probably by last September. We start the budget process well into the fall, early in the fall,” she said. “I wasn’t going to wait until now to start doing the budget preparations for the department, so it was a separate exercise and the timing would not have allowed that to be a primary document leading into the budget exercise.
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said that the whole thing seems backwards.
“They just went about this the wrong way right from the beginning. They created the department — it appears that they did it very hastily — and then hired this guy, and we’re a year and a half in,” he said. “She’s already making changes, she doesn’t have a report. The whole way it was put together is like a lot of things we’re seeing from government these days. They’re haphazard.”
New Democrat Education Critic Dale Kirby pointed out that Shea has been making some pretty significant changes to the department recently, before the Noseworthy report is finalized.
On March 1, the government cut funding for an array of community groups that provide employment assistance services, jeopardizing the jobs of hundreds of workers.
“The minister is laying off staff in her own department, she is cutting what I believe are essential programs and services,” Kirby said. “It’s absolutely irresponsible.”