Panel Comments On Price Tag

Published: September 13, 2013 08:00 am EDT

The three members of Ontario's Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel -- Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson -- have commented on a report from MPP Randy Pettapiece that detailed the wages and expenses allotted to the three government-appointed consultants.

Documents that Pettapiece obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed the Panel billed for more than $526,000 in compensation and expenses from June 2012 through to March 2013.

“To me that’s wasting taxpayers’ money,” Pettapiece said. "About 9,000 people have already lost their jobs because the Liberals deliberately abandoned the horse-racing industry. They will want to know why former politicians and consulting firms are profiting from the mess the government made.”

Buchanan billed for services to the tune of $120,000 plus $16,708.05 in expenses; Snobelen billed $135,001.10 for services plus $5,334.22 in expenses; Wilkinson's totals were $134,752.50 for services and $11,499 in expenses.

Other panel expenses included a consulting fee of $66,872 from Ingratta Innovations, operated by former deputy minister of agriculture Frank Ingratta, and $36,483 to communications firm Dorey & Crossley for working on the panel’s report.

When asked about it on Thursday, Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne defended the price tag, considering it a necessary expense.

"He (Pettapiece) knows how important it is that we have people with expertise giving us advice," said Wynne.

Wilkinson, the Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate Pettapiece defeated in the last provincial election, said that he feels the Panel is providing good value for money.

“We have been asked specifically by the government to accomplish certain objectives for them. Over the last year we’ve met every one of their requirements and we’ve done that in an open and transparent way,” Wilkinson told the Stratford Beacon Herald, noting that the $750 per day consulting fee is half his commercial rate.

"It has been very, very labour intensive but I think it’s going to lead to the very best solution possible."

In an email to Trot Insider on Thursday, Snobelen also confirmed that his professional commercial consulting fee is much higher than what he's currently getting.

"The issue of value is always a fair question," said Snobelen. "I think the effectiveness of a tri-partisan panel is worth the investment."

Buchanan, who drew the ire of Pettapiece for expensing $10 worth of dry cleaning, explained that the money was paid back and with a laugh, explained what happened.

"That was on a hotel bill and I didn't notice," Buchanan told Trot Insider. "I would never even think of doing that."

Buchanan said that he consciously chose a discount hotel as opposed to closer and more expensive lodging when in Guelph and working from the OMAF office out of respect for the taxpayer.

The documents released also show that Panel members had to pay back money claimed for travel expenses. Buchanan shed light on that issue.

"They had said to us we're not civil servants -- we're contractors -- and we were being paid 40 cents per kilometre," stated Buchanan. "Then they looked at it later on and said 'we have to go by the same rules as the civil servants and we overpaid you for various kilometres'."

That money was paid back as well.

Is the consulting fee askew? Buchanan agrees with his Panel members.

"I'm certainly aware that consultants from Deloitte, McKinsey, Hill & Knowlton are very well compensated and I'm sure it's a lot more than what we're getting."

Buchanan also took time to provide a quick update on where the Panel is at, noting the final report mandated by Minister Wynne is "very close."

"We're meeting with OLG folks [Thursday] afternoon to look at what they're doing in terms of marketing and new products and some of the work they've been doing," noted Buchanan. "We're meeting with Sudbury and Rideau [Friday].

"We're working towards trying to crystallize this Final Report. It's coming along... we're trying to put a number together that [government] can swallow which will make sure that the industry has a future."