Mazza says government was fully informed: Ornge
By The Canadian Press
July 18, 2012, Toronto - The man at the centre of the Ornge scandal says he doesn't know what went wrong with the troubled air ambulance service, but the government never told him he was veering off course.
By The Canadian Press
Ousted CEO Chris Mazza says the government was fully informed about what he was doing at the taxpayer-funded organization, which is now under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.
And if they'd asked him to change direction because he was doing something wrong, he would have, Mazza said Wednesday before a legislative committee.
The mastermind behind Ornge was at a loss to explain what went wrong at the organization, which has been mired in controversy for months amid allegations that public money was used for personal gain.
"I don't know,'' an emotional Mazza told the committee. "To this day, I don't know.''
His work to transform Ontario's patchwork air ambulance service into a world-class organization wasn't about personal gain, but a desire to help patients in the wake of his son Joshua's death in 2006, he said.
Yet he defended a generous $1.4-million compensation package — plus bonuses and a personal loan — that he acknowledged "may seem excessive.''
"At the outset, and with the benefit of hindsight, I acknowledge that although I may have done things differently, I would have and always have acted with the best interests of the residents of Ontario in mind,'' he said with his lawyer by his side.
Mazza said he also feels badly for those who were affected by the controversy, especially those who lost their jobs.
Mazza acknowledged the decision to hide his compensation package from public view may have been "ill-advised.''
"It is my understanding that those decisions were made using data and compared my responsibilities and obligations to other similar companies and their executives,'' he said.
"I regret it has been a lightning rod for controversy. … The trouble it has caused is extensive and unfortunate.''
But the government didn't show any concern about his salary, he testified. Mazza said he didn't demand the pay increases, saying the decisions were made by Ornge's board of directors guided by their compensation advisers.
Many of the actions he took as Ornge's CEO were taken with the full knowledge of the Ontario government, he testified, which gave Ornge hundreds of millions of dollars.
He said he formally met Premier Dalton McGuinty at a fundraiser and talked to him for about 15 minutes about his ideas for Ornge. He said he was introduced by Alfred Apps — a man with strong ties to both the Ontario and federal Liberal parties — who was working as a lawyer for Ornge at the time. Mazza said he couldn't remember the date of that meeting.
The committee has heard about the personal loans he received from Ornge and his involvement in getting his girlfriend — Kelly Long, a former water-ski instructor — a job at Ornge.
In addition to his generous compensation package, Mazza said he received a $450,000 loan from Ornge due to "difficult housing circumstances.'' Mazza said he also received a $200,000 special bonus in 2011 — which was offered by Ornge's compensation committee — for the work he'd done to date.
He denied that taxpayer dollars were "siphoned'' to Ornge's complicated web of for-profit companies, many of which were controlled by top executives, including Mazza. However, the committee has heard that Ornge, which received about $150 million a year from the government, has no other source of funding.
His lawyer, Roger Yachetti, interjected several times during Mazza's appearance to object to the pointed questions his client was asked, saying they were unfair and incorrect. At one point, Yachetti leaned over to ask if he was OK.
Mazza avoided journalists and television cameras as he entered the legislature, turning his back to them as he entered an elevator. Asked whether one of the men who accompanied him pushing journalists out the way was hired security, Mazza responded: "He's my best friend.''
He appeared to be on the verge of tears at times during his testimony, particularly when he was asked by Progressive Conservative Frank Klees about patients who died after Ornge was called to transport them.
The committee has heard numerous stories about people who died while waiting for an air ambulance, about understaffing by Ornge, and about helicopter interiors that were so badly designed paramedics often could not perform CPR on patients.
He insisted everyone at Ornge wanted to help those patients and every death was of great concern to him.
It's been a long wait to hear Mazza tell his side of the story amid allegations that public money may have been used for personal gain.
Two Speakers' warrants were issued to compel him to testify, but his appearance was put off because two psychiatrists declared him medically unfit to testify. Mazza took medical leave last December when stories about Ornge's questionable business deals made headlines.
He denied using his serious emotional problems to avoid testifying before the committee, which tried to get him for weeks.
Many of the witnesses have pointed the finger at Mazza for the controversy that's created a major embarrassment for the governing Liberals.
Auditor general Jim McCarter has criticized the government for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.
Former Ornge employees have described Mazza as "impressive,'' "brilliant'' and a "visionary,'' but also a tyrant whose volatile temper exploded when they didn't do what he wanted.
Long wanted to sit alongside Mazza and his lawyer at the committee table, but the request was denied. The room was packed and included members of Mazza's family.