Former Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick says politicians and media are not focused on the right issue when it comes to the McKinsey and Company contracts scandal.

In an op-ed penned for Policy Options, Wernick said the government’s rising use of outside contractors should pose questions about a deteriorating public service, rather than allegations about corruption.

“Opposition and the media are drilling wells hoping for a political gusher,” he wrote. “Can they find something untoward in the contracting process? Can they find something troubling in the relationship?

“The more interesting angles […] are about whether the use of outside contractors is a sign of weakening capacity by the public service.”

Wernick said government contracting is normal in many ways, but the current growth might be a sign that Canada’s government is becoming too dependent on outside contractors.

“There is nothing new about governments at every level acquiring services from outside suppliers,” he wrote. “For me, the issue is not whether to use outside suppliers […], but how to use them to best effect.”

If critics want to reduce government spending on these suppliers, he said, they’ll have to invest the money elsewhere. Wernick suggested critics invest in public servants – such as by doubling the resources allocated for training.

The former public servant of more than 30 years said employees should also be more free to take assignments across departments. 

Wernick’s comments about a declining public service come while a union of public service employees at the Canada Revenue Agency demand higher pay and begin voting to strike this tax season.

As True North reported, the union representing more than 35,000 workers refused contract negotiations after its requests for nearly 30% in pay raises and a work-from-home policy were denied.

At the same time, the Public Service Alliance of Canada has announced strike votes for roughly 120,000 public-sector employees in the departments of Programs and Administrative Services, Operational Services, Technical Services, and Education and Library Science.

Conservative politicians have focused on the contracts McKinsey has received from the Trudeau government, requesting an investigation into a roughly thirty-fold increase since the former government.