City Council last night approved a motion by Ward 4 Councillor Stephan Kinnach directing to staff to study the Corporation’s use of consultants.
Kinach said the idea was born while studying budgets, with an eye to possibly finding some savings.
“We’re not going to get rid of consulting 100 per cent,” said Kinach. “If there is something we could do in-house, maybe project here and there. The federal government just did a self review and found they were over-using consultants and are now cutting back, so I think we should do an internal review as well.”
The City spent $11 million on consultants between 2019 and 2023.
Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni seconded the motion.
“What I would be looking for is probably at the end of the year find out how much money has been spent on consultants,” said Bruni. “A line per line item might be difficult especially with some of the projects going on. I think for councillors to understand exactly how much money is being spent on consultants…it’s a simple ask.”
Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour said there’s a huge difference between the City and the federal government. Over the time span of the fed’s increased use of consultants, they also grew the public service by 40 per cent, he said.
That hasn’t been the case with the City of Sault Ste Marie, said Dufour.
“In fact, a close examination of our workforce would show that we’ve actually shed FTEs as we’ve grown and used consultants in order to accomplish more of what we’re doing,” Dufour explained.
“If you cut-back on consultants,” continued Dufour, “you’re going to automatically cut work or increase your FTE count.”
Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm White said examining the hiring of consultants and what they’re used for “is a fair question for us to answer” and would also inform the public on consultant use.
“I think it’s fair to give us time to develop that for you, well in advance of next year’s budget deliberations,” said White.
White said staff can present council with a clear idea of where consultants are used and why that option was more cost effective.
As for consulting being included as a line item in department budgets, White said it was a “thornier” issue and staff can report back to council if that can be done and if so, how.
Ward 3 Coun. Ron Zagordo says the public generally has a negative perception of consultants being hired by the City. He says the motion promotes transparency and will provide the public with a better idea of why consultants are used on particular projects.
“In that light I see the motion as a positive thing,” said Zagordo.
Vezeau-Allen elected to panel to hire a new Deputy CAO
City Council Monday night elected Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Vezeau-Allen to join the panel tasked with selecting Sault Ste. Marie’s next Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Community Development and Enterprise Services.
Allen garnered seven votes and Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth had four.
The five-person panel will consist of Allen, Mayor Matthew Shoemaker, CAO Tom Vair, City Solicitor Karen Fields and Nicole Ottolino, Director of Human Resources.
The new Deputy CAO will fill the void created when Vair was selected to replace retiring CAO Malcolm White.
Council: PRRC needs to review its approach
Sault Ste. Marie’s urgent need for primary medical care means the Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee (PRRC) should review its approach to physician recruiting and retention to ensure there is easier access to primary care for Sault residents.
That’s at the heart of a motion tabled by Ward 4 Councillor Stephan Kinach and seconded by Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth.
The motion calls for the PRRC to review its terms of reference and recommend changes to its funding partners to ensure its focus is on the delivery of primary care in the community, whether through adding nurse practitioner recruitment to the group’s scope, or other efforts that may provide easier access to primary care for Sault residents.
Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said the motion was generated in the wake of the recent de-rostering of 10,000 patients at the Group Health Centre due to retirement and departures.
“I’d like to see a more grassroots approach from communities, especially northern communities,” Kinach told council. “Lobbying the province, and the federal government to take more action. This is not just a Northern Ontario issue, it’s all across Canada.”
Kinach says Toronto currently has 305 unfilled family medicine positions. Ottawa is sort by 171, and Hamilton is short by 114.
Since 2002, the PRRC has recruited 205 physicians to practice in the Sault. It’s estimated that about 30,000 local patients are without access to a primary care provider.
“This is an everybody problem,” says Kinnach, “and with our public healthcare, access to the family doctor is your access to the whole healthcare system.”
People are going into emergency rooms to get referrals, said Kinnach, and they’re clogging the emergency system, for non-emergency issues.
Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth says most of the patients she sees at a walk-in clinic are coming in without a doctor. She said residency programs need family physicians who are also teachers.
“There’s not enough teachers out there,” said Hollingsworth.
Statistics Canada reported one million new Canadians last year, said Kinnach. Medical schools, he said, are unable to graduate enough doctors to meet the swelling demand.
Last year, the residency matching program for all medical graduates and foreign-trained, saw 100 family medicine slots go unfilled.
“Those spots are just lost,” said Kinach, who explained it takes foreign-trained doctors five to ten years to become fully-licensed to practice in Canada.
Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi said the province is largely to blame for Ontario’s critical shortages.
“What’s happening at the Group Health Centre and across Canada is awful news,” said Gardi. “Especially in the community with an aged population. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is entirely the purview of the provincial government. It was years in the making. Now, everything is coming to a head at once.”
Council unanimously approved the motion.