11/27/2014 02:20 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST

Opposition leader criticizes $85,000 contract with consulting firm

REGINA - Saskatchewan's Opposition leader is criticizing the government for an $85,000 health contract he says was given to a consulting firm to pitch its services.

NDP Leader Cam Broten has repeatedly called on the government to scrap its Lean program, which aims to streamline the health-care system.

In August 2012, the government signed a $40-million contract over four years with U.S. company John Black and Associates. The government has said the total cost of the contract will end up being closer to $35 million.

Broten said Thursday that a separate contract with the company in 2011-12 essentially outlined payment for the initial pitch. The contract said services would include presentations on the deployment of Lean and contributions to "successful transformations elsewhere."

"Clearly John Black was doing a lot of work in Saskatchewan in the lead-up to the massive contract and this government has not been transparent," Broten said.

This is the latest in a long list of criticisms raised by the NDP. Broten has argued that Lean ignores the concerns of front-line health workers. The Opposition has also criticized the government's contract with John Black and Associates, including the $2.7 million budgeted for consultants' travel costs from July 2014 to November 2015.

Broten said he believes the consulting firm had a leg up on competition when the government put out its request for proposals to roll out Lean across the province.

"This is unbelievable," Broten said. "What this government has allowed John Black to do is develop a contract, paid him to do the pitch and get to the point where it's a $40-million contract."

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the province invited John Black and Associates to Saskatchewan to better understand the Lean program and had smaller contracts with the company before signing on for four years. He added that the request for proposals process was competitive and looked at different options.

"There was an evaluation process before (John Black and Associates) was agreed to," he said.

Duncan said the $85,000 contract, which also included associated expenses, is in line with the rates of other consultants.

Premier Brad Wall has said Lean has already paid for itself in savings on the design for the new children's hospital in Saskatoon and a new hospital in Moose Jaw.

Earlier this month Broten criticized the government because he said an arm's-length health agency was being used for public relations surrounding Lean.

He cited a memo about the Health Quality Council, which is supposed to evaluate Saskatchewan health care and make recommendations for improvement.

Broten said the council took on a communications role to promote Lean, which he said affects the council's ability to offer criticism and complete other tasks.

Duncan said the council wasn't pushed into the communications role and it doesn't influence the group's mandate or work.