10/28/2014 01:06 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST

NDP say Ontario Liberals bleeding money to private IT consultants

TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government is making "a huge mistake" by spending over $700 million a year on outside information technology consultants, the New Democrats charged Tuesday.

The province has $130 million worth of fee-for-service deals with nearly 1,500 IT consultants, and another $570 million in contracts with large tech companies, on top of its own staff of 3,600 IT professionals, said NDP finance critic Catherine Fife.

"Many of these private IT contractors perform the same tasks as the IT staff currently employed directly by the government, except they cost two to three times more," Fife told the legislature.

"Significantly reducing private outsourcing of IT could save this government $200 million. It's almost like you are wilfully wasting money."

There's been a 63 per cent increase in the use of private IT consultants by the province in just five years, despite a government-commissioned report in 2012 that found IT services can cost up to three times as much when provided by the private sector, added Fife.

"When will this government reverse its policy of outsourcing IT and admit that it is a wasteful and expensive approach that results in hundreds of millions of wasted dollars every single year," she asked. "When we follow the money, we see that you are dedicated to private IT over the (Ontario Public Service). No doubt about it."

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the government has been taking steps to reduce its use of private IT consultants, but needs them "for short-term and non-reoccurring projects like a one-time contract to get new programs up and running for cyber security upgrades," and for outside expertise.

"We're living in the Internet age and Ontarians expect their government to be accessible digitally," he said. "We have a strong record of reducing the use of consultants across the government"

Sousa also said that since the Liberals were first elected in 2003, more than 1,500 IT consultant positions were converted to OPS staff jobs, resulting in ongoing savings of about $60 million a year.

"We're managing our use of consultants through a three-pronged approach: by transferring work to government staff, by creating a central pool of government IT staff to work on government-wide projects and by centralizing the acquisition of IT consultant services," he said. "We need IT consultants when the capacity of our expertise does not exist within in the Ontario public service."

It's not the first time the use of outside consultants has become a problem for the Liberal government.

In 2009, then health minister David Caplan was forced to resign when eHealth Ontario was the focus of a major spending scandal after auditor general Jim McCarter found that hundreds of millions of dollars had been wasted due to a heavy reliance on outside consultants and poor strategic planning.

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