TORONTO - The large paycheque that's being handed to the government's point man on cost-cutting left Ontario's opposition parties fuming Monday.

Former economist Don Drummond is being paid $1,500 a day to work on a report that will provide advice on how the cash-strapped province can reduce spending to slay its $16-billion deficit, finance officials confirmed.

That's eight times what the average Ontario worker makes and nearly 20 times the pay of someone working for minimum wage, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"How can the deputy premier expect everyday people to believe this province is actually in tough times when he's cutting huge cheques to the very person who's drawing up the plans for the belt tightening?" she said in the legislature.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who was filling in as deputy premier for his absent boss, defended the fees as an "important investment."

"We think it makes good sense to get that kind of advice from somebody who's had experience in the private sector, has experience in the public sector as a former senior official at the federal Department of Finance," he said.

"At the end of the day, we think that's money well spent. We think it's important to have that kind of advice."

Duncan was also quick to point out that Horwath's office and party operation costs taxpayers $2,700 a day.

"I think your supporters think that's money that's well spent," he told Horwath.

Aly Vitunski, a spokeswoman for Duncan, said Drummond can only collect the $1,500-a-day fee for a maximum of 100 days.

Three other members of the Drummond commission aren't keeping their salaries, but turning it back to the public sector, she added in an email.

It's still "awfully expensive" for a job that Duncan and Premier Dalton McGuinty should be doing themselves, said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

The Tories have already offered up lots of ideas on how to control costs and boost the economy, including a legislated wage freeze for public sector workers and modernizing the appreticeship system to create more jobs in skilled trades, he said.

"Those are ideas that are good ideas, they're free, I'm not going to charge you $1,500 bucks a day," the Opposition leader said.

McGuinty, who was in London, said he believes the minority Liberal government will get "tremendous value" for the work that Drummond is doing.

"We're counting on Don Drummond to put on the table for us very solid and wise advice on how we can manage government costs in an era of very slow economic growth," McGuinty said.

"We need to find a way to get better value for our tax dollars. So it's a very important undertaking that we've asked Mr. Drummond and his team to pursue."

Drummond's initial findings are expected to be made public in January.