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E-Health scandal: Contracting out is a failure

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To tender or not to tender? That is not the question.

Ontario has always been addicted to consultants - particularly IT consultants. We've seen it for more than 20 years - under the NDP, the conservatives (remember Andersen anyone) and the liberals. The addiction seems to only get worse.

Whether tendered or un-tendered, contracting out of IT services often ends up wasting money and leading to the same results:

- cost overruns

- blown timelines

- shoddy work that costs more money to fix

- lack of accountability

- lack of knowledge transfer to permanent staff leading to ongoing dependency on consultants

- privacy risks

- favoritism and the potential of corruption.

    The E-Health scandal is not primarily about the tendering process despite what the conservatives and the media would have us believe. Let's not let them change the channel on the central issues - public services, contracting out and the unwillingness of the provincial government to develop its own capacity to deliver in-house projects of various sizes. Relying on consultants gets the FTE (full-time, permanent job) costs down while contract spending continues to soar. It's the old "two-pocket" trick. 

    Critics on the right who are squawking about E-health consultants who didn't deliver were also squawking about "overpaid" trash collectors and other municipal workers who do deliver. They want to have their cake and eat it too. Maybe they can try sending the work to India or China next and see how quickly that moves the project ahead? I hope that the ONDP will distinguish itself from the conservatives by getting beyond the tendering process as the central issue.

    Simply put, there is no real accountability with a contingent labour force - whether they be high priced consultants or building cleaners. The only realistic long-term solution for protecting the public treasury is to rebuild the civil service and to develop internal IT (and other) capacities. In the end, good union jobs are a lot more cost effective than multinational consultants whose bottom line rests with their shareholders, not the public.

    It's not just the Ministry of Health but also Ministry of Government Services, Ministry of Finance and ultimately the Premier's office which share responsibility for this latest debacle but you can find the same practices taking place in every government ministry and agency.


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