In March 2020, as governments were enforcing lockdown mandates at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consulting firm McKinsey called someone in the Ontario premier’s office. Soon after, the firm was put in charge of setting up the Ontario government’s pandemic command structure – at a cost of $1.6 million.
The story caught public attention months later when the Auditor General of Ontario published a damning report, arguing that the response to the pandemic was being led by political workers rather than public health experts. Reliance on consultants, he maintained, resulted in unnecessarily complex structures, delays and a completely fragmented response.
This has happened a lot, more times than Canadians know. Since the start of the pandemic, federal and provincial governments have turned to private consultants who have little or no prior expertise in public health, giving them substantial responsibility and influence in managing the pandemic response.
Indeed, spending on consultants has increased dramatically with the onset of the pandemic. In March 2021, the federal government estimated that annual spending on third-party consultants would increase to $16.4 billion per year by 2022, up from $10.4 billion in 2016.
Two months later, the estimate was revised to $17.7 billion, reflecting a further increase in the already rising costs of consulting services.
take stock after a crisis
It is perhaps not surprising that consulting firms have played such an important role during the pandemic. After a major crisis, governments often turn to consulting firms to assess how they can do things better.
Along these lines, governments across Canada have consulted these firms on issues such as assessing the impact of the pandemic on Canadian industry, the capabilities of the national bio-manufacturing sector, as well as governments’ first wave response and long-term governance. commissioned for. -Term care home.
Yet what is unique about these firms today is the wide scope and scale of their intervention in policy-making.
In addition to providing ad-hoc advice to governments, these firms are increasingly engaged in core aspects of governance, including developing strategies and implementing the structures and processes through which pandemic response has been organized.
For example, while McKinsey developed Ontario’s pandemic response command structure, Deloitte set up Quebec’s COVID-19 screening system, developed the vaccination campaign in Ontario and, perhaps most notable, managed the lucrative $16 million vaccine rollout. played a major role in Contract.
Also noteworthy is the changing scale of consulting operations, with sole source contracts moving to international professional services firms with large organizational footprints. In fact, the so-called Big Four firms – Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young (EY) – have significantly expanded their range of operations as they moved from advising to professional services and IT infrastructure.
Consulting Firms Now Tech Companies
as mentioned in canadian accountant, Deloitte’s vaccine contracts show that these firms are “no longer strictly auditors but also tech companies.”
And while the sector remains diverse, there is evidence that these firms have been able to make massive gains, change buying practices, and consolidate their influence through mergers and acquisitions.
As of 2020, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and EY employed more than 1,148,000 people in 150 countries. Through operations on such a scale, they have a significant amount of power and are able to mobilize personnel from all over the world.
They form a “shadow public service” in designing and implementing policies, but with almost no oversight or accountability, according to a report by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
The organization also notes that these firms “play by an entirely different set of rules: they are not hired on the basis of merit, representation, fairness, or transparency; they are not hired on the basis of budget restrictions or hiring freezes.” are not subordinate; and they are not accountable to the Canadian people.”
Currently, many governments are refusing to disclose contracts or services produced by these firms in response to requests for access to information. For example, in June in response to our requests from the Province of Ontario, we were informed that McKinsey contracts and deliverables were being withheld based on cabinet discretion (Section 12 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act).
‘Low expertise’ in public health
We are therefore unable to determine the rationale behind why these firms – with little expertise in public health – assume responsibility for managing the pandemic response, or to understand the nature of the services they provide. , often through sole-source contracts.
The evidence is not very promising.
For example, Alberta’s $4.3 million contact-tracing app was launched by Deloitte in May 2020, despite major documented problems with firms working on a similar system in the United States. This raises the question of why Deloitte won the contract.
As of October 2021, only 158 out of 306,000 people had registered positive test results in the app.
As governments rely on these firms not only for advice but also for key policy-making functions, we must question the extent to which such partnerships have actually increased – or hollowed out – government capabilities. Have given.