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NDP slams Ornge over staff bonuses

March 19, 2013, Toronto - Health Minister Deb Matthews is defending Ontario's troubled air ambulance service for awarding nearly $2 million in bonuses to staff after promising last year to cancel them.


March 19, 2013
By The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked Tuesday why Ornge didn't stick to
its guns when it said it wouldn't give performance pay to non-unionized
employees.

"The fact that executives at a disgraced public
company will be getting big bonuses is just another bit of bitter news
for patients who want to see health care dollars spent helping people
get well, not padding the pockets of already generous public salaries,''
Horwath said in the legislature.

But Ornge had little choice
after a group of employees launched an appeal with Human Resources and
Skills Development Canada and won, Matthews said.

"In order to
avoid the high cost of litigation, they did decide to offer bonuses to
their employees with a very clear understanding that this is one time,''
she replied.

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"It brings their salary up to what it was last year. It is not higher than last year's, and they have a plan going forward.''

From
now on, there will be “very strict guidelines'' about how staff will
be evaluated for performance pay, Matthews said later outside the
legislative chamber.

"I would have preferred that they were able
to stick with their original decision not to pay performance pay, but
they lost that appeal.''

Ornge chairman Ian Delaney said Ornge
will give performance pay to 424 unionized and non-unionized employees
this fiscal year – an average of about $4,632 each.

The bonuses
won't be awarded to anyone who worked for the now bankrupt entities of
Ornge, he said in a letter obtained by The Canadian Press.

The Liberals always say they're going to crack down on bonuses and CEO salaries, but never do, Horwath said.

"People
expect to actually see real change, and they're not seeing any of it,''
she said. "They're seeing just excuses time and time again.''

Ornge,
which receives about $150 million a year from the government, has been
under fire for more than a year over sky-high salaries and financial
irregularities that are currently under police investigation.

EHealth,
the electronic health records agency that landed in hot water in 2009,
also tried to cancel employee bonuses with mixed results.

EHealth
employees filed a class-action lawsuit after Matthews told the agency
to cancel raises of up to 1.9 per cent and promised bonuses of up to 7.8
per cent in 2011.

Former health minister David Caplan was forced
to resign in 2009 after eHealth spent $1 billion trying to develop
electronic health records but had very little to show for all the money.

Millions
of dollars were given to consultants with ties to the Liberal
government in the form of untendered contracts, while auditors uncovered
widespread abuses of expense accounts at the agency.