01/29/2015 12:12 EST | Updated 03/31/2015 05:59 EDT

NDP criticizes Saskatchewan government's Lean job post for management position

REGINA - Saskatchewan's Opposition is criticizing the government for posting a job while the province tightens its purse strings.

The NDP said Thursday that the government is looking to hire a permanent, full-time specialist for its Lean program.

But Premier Brad Wall said in December that falling oil prices were forcing the government to impose a freeze on spending and discretionary hiring.

Lean critic Warren McCall said the job posting is an example of misplaced priorities.

"Before Christmas, the premier had a lot of tough talk on the finances of the province in terms of freezing discretionary hiring, spending freezes, putting a halt to travel. But we found out, of course, the postings for Lean specialists continue," he said.

"It doesn't add up."

The Opposition has repeatedly criticized the Lean program, which aims to streamline health care across the province. The New Democrats argue that the $40-million contract with a U.S. consultant has failed to improve the province's standards.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said health regions have been asked to look at discretionary hiring, but the job posted by Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region is a necessary one.

He said ending the contract early with consultant John Black in March will help to save money. The government has said the total cost of the contract, which was initially set to expire in June, will end up being closer to $35 million.

"Long after John Black is gone from the province, it's our intention Lean will stay here. That means we do need people who are focused on ... patient safety and quality improvement," Duncan said.

He added that some of the travel previously booked for the Lean program is also going ahead despite cutbacks.

The NDP has previously criticized the Ministry of Health for sending staff on tours to health facilities across North America for Lean training. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, the government said it will spend around $120,000 per tour of 20 people. For seven tours, the cost will total $840,000. The government said added to this are travel costs which come out at $2,900 per person, or $406,000 overall.

A government spokeswoman said travel requests have been greatly reduced and ministry staff have been directed to consider alternatives, such as teleconferencing.

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

Saskatchewan was the first jurisdiction in Canada to apply the Lean program across its entire health system.