09/14/2011 01:17 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:17 EST

Governor General to review his office spending

OTTAWA - Governor General David Johnston says he won't escape the fiscal constraint sweeping the nation's capital -- but the review of his $20-million office is coming at his own behest.

In an interview, Johnston said his office feels the pinch just like everyone else.

But unlike government departments who have been told to find reductions of between five and 10 per cent, Johnston's strategic review wasn't ordered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the last budget.

Rather, officials explain that Johnston instigated the review himself. He does not have a target, nor would he say what -- if anything -- would actually be cut. The review is meant to make sure the office makes the most of a budget that is certainly not expanding, even as costs rise.

"If you're managing any public institution, you have a responsibility to make sure that taxpayers' money is used as effectively and as efficiently as possible," Johnston said in an interview at Rideau Hall.

"We have undertaken a strategic review of our operations with a view to trying to be sure we are getting the best value for money," he said. "And we feel the same constraints that other institutions in the government of Canada feel and are responding, we hope, accordingly."

He wouldn't exactly say what that means for his travel budget -- the subject of controversy over the years under previous governors general.

But he did say his office would rely more on social media to boost its profile.

"We will be using more of the resources we have available the best we can," he said.

Johnston's predecessor, Michaelle Jean, recently came under fire for her travel expenses. Montreal La Presse calculated that her personal trips on government planes cost taxpayers more than $500,000.

Jean defended the spending, saying she had little choice but to use government jets on personal trips, because of security concerns. She said she paid for the trips out of her own pocket.

In 2004, Conservatives -- then in opposition -- criticized then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson for spending millions on a trip to promote Canadian culture in Russian, Finland and Iceland.

During her tenure, the budget for the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General rose to $19 million a year from about $11 million.

Since then, the budget, which has to be approved by Parliament, has barely budged.

The most recent government estimates say the office expects to spend $108,500 more in the 2011-12 fiscal year than the year earlier. That's an increase of 0.6 per cent -- minuscule, when it comes to government.

Johnston himself is getting a small raise, according to the government's main estimates. In 2010-11, the salary was $130,000. It will climb four per cent this year to $135,000.

In the last budget, Harper ordered a "strategic and operating Review" of each department in the hopes of finding $4 billion in annual savings by 2014. Each department has had to come up with two lists of cuts -- one with an overall five-per-cent reduction and the second with 10 per cent.