TORONTO – Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government offered to pay up to $1 million for an outside contractor to help it cut costs in a sector supporting some of the province’s most vulnerable residents.
A contract looking for bidders – issued in August and obtained by The Canadian Press – seeks a management consultant to find ways to “streamline” the delivery of services to 40,000 adults living with developmental disabilities, with an eye to the “savings targets” in the spring budget.
“The government has identified the need for system changes to improve outcomes and financial sustainability in the developmental services sector,” the project tender says.
The successful bidder will “identify and describe effective or best practices in other jurisdictions where developmental services or social service program expenditure or growth has been reduced/contained.”
According to the expected timeline, the project should be well underway, but the government would not confirm that or how much it may have ended up paying.
“The (request) sought to obtain analysis and advice based on a review of leading jurisdictions and evidence-based best practices to help us build a more sustainable and effective developmental services system,” Christine Wood, a spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Todd Smith, said in a statement.
“Our government is taking steps to manage expenditures while finding opportunities to work more efficiently. This work includes looking for opportunities to modernize services, reduce red tape, and streamline programs to serve Ontarians more effectively.”
A question-and-answer package included for potential bidders contemplates the $1 million contract maximum.
“The budget for this work is more than we have ever seen for a four-month project,” the question reads. “We are unclear on why this budget is so large, and how the government is seeing themselves receiving value for money within this enormous budget.”
The answer is that the project will actually last six months Sep. 23, 2019, to March 31, 2020, – and that all bids will be evaluated both on technical criteria and submitted price.
The terms of the contract sought make it clear that the successful bidder will only consult with people within the ministry, and “draw on prior input received from individuals, families and stakeholders.”
Chris Beesley, the CEO of Community Living Ontario, said he has received assurances from Smith that there will be a different component that will involve talking to people affected.
“That was certainly one of our concerns, that basically you’d have government talking to itself,” he said.
Beesley said he is open to finding better ways to run programs and services, but there is no room to make cuts within the system.
“Where you have a sector that has gone without infrastructure investment for 10 years, then there’s not really any fat left to cut,” he said. “Where you have a waiting list that is equal to or greater to those who are actually being supported, then obviously cutting the sector or any kind of cut is not sustainable.”
Services provided to adults with developmental disabilities in Ontario vary widely, but include support workers, community classes, and housing assistance.
But there are long waits for many of those supports. A report by the Ontario Developmental Services Housing Task Force last year found that 15,700 adults with developmental disabilities were waiting for residential services in 2017, up from 12,000 four years prior.
The government’s budget showed a $1-billion cut in the children and social services sector over three years, and set a target of a $510 million annual cut in 2021-22 from “operational efficiencies and cost savings.”
Efficiencies would include “evidence-based sector transformation, including in developmental services, child welfare, as well as special needs and early intervention programs…to continue investments in core services such as in the Ontario Autism Program.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government has the process backwards.
“You shouldn’t set a target of an amount of money we’re going to pull out without realizing what the impacts of those kinds of cuts are going to be,” she said.
“Spending $1 million enriching some private firm to come in and put the boots to the most vulnerable – it’s disgraceful, frankly.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said that is not the area in which to cut spending.
“Any reasonable person would say, ‘Why are you doing that?”‘ he said. “If people knew the extent of the need, they would be outraged.”