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London Free Press Business Section:


Speaker costs taxpayers $10,000

A key adviser to Tony Blair is being flown to Canada to deliver a speech to the Ontario cabinet.
ALAN FINDLAY, Free Press Queen's Park Bureau   2004-01-14 03:49:09  

TORONTO -- Ontario taxpayers are forking over $10,000 for cabinet ministers to hear a supper speech from a key adviser in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government. Michael Barber, Blair's chief adviser on service delivery, will address cabinet tonight as the Liberals gear up public consultations that virtually echo Blair's restructuring off government services in Britain.

A spokesperson for Premier Dalton McGuinty said the cost of bringing Barber over for the presentation is $10,000.

"We're really drawing on his experience and how the process worked in the U.K.," said Audrey Gouskos. "There are some similar parallels."

Blair's government is well along in a process of challenging the country's citizens to come up with ideas on restructuring government.

"Facing up to difficult challenges should not frighten either the party or the country," states a Blair government document.

McGuinty began making similar remarks soon after taking power and learning the province was headed toward a $5.6-billion deficit if it didn't cut spending.

Bruce Winchester of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation questioned the wisdom of paying $10,000 to fly over a guest speaker when the province is looking for ways to save money.

"That's an awfully expensive guest speaker," said Winchester.

"It wouldn't be the first thing I'd be spending money on."

Barber's presentation will wrap up the first day of a two-day Queen's Park cabinet retreat expected to focus on the province's plan to embark on public consultations involving traditional hearings and smaller groups of citizens' juries to deliberate on more specific proposals to reform public services.

Later this month, McGuinty is expected to announce more details on the consultation, including possible scenarios for eliminating some government programs entirely in order to better fund priorities such as health and education.

Among ideas McGuinty has already floated publicly is cutting wealthy seniors off the province's current drug plan.

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