Wings Magazine

News
Opposition criticizes oversight legislation: Ornge

Feb. 27, 2013, Toronto - Legislation to give the Ontario government better control over the province's troubled Ornge air ambulance system is "too little, too late,'' the opposition charged Tuesday.


February 27, 2013
Carey Fredericks

"This is another example of the Liberal government talking a big
game but never taking appropriate steps to ensure substantive
legislation to protect Ontarians,'' said Progressive Conservative health
critic Christine Elliott.

"I  fear once again it's been a little bit too little too late.''

Health
Minister Deb Matthews re-introduced legislation that she said would
boost oversight of the scandal-plagued air ambulance service and limit
what it can do without government approval, such as selling assets.

"My
goal is to ensure that Ornge focuses on providing the highest quality
air ambulance service possible and gets the best value for our precious
health care dollars,'' Matthews told the legislature.

Advertisment

The
original bill was introduced a year ago – one day after it was announced
police were investigating financial irregularities at Ornge – but it
died when Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature last October.

Matthews
said whistleblowers would be protected under the bill, and announced
she would introduce a new regulation to put Ornge under the auspices of
Ontario's freedom of information legislation, which the opposition
parties had demanded.

"It is vitally important that employees do not feel intimidated when raising their concerns,'' she said.

"We're
also taking new steps to enhance transparency at Ornge by proposing to
make Ornge subject to freedom of information and protection of privacy
act.''

The New Democrats called on the Liberal government to give the ombudsman oversight over Ornge.

"If
you are serious that you want transparency and you want accountability,
then you have to give the Ombudsman the right to investigate
complaints,'' said NDP health critic France Gelinas.

"We will
also be looking for some straight talk, both from the Ministry of Health
and from the government, as to how the Ornge fiasco happened in the
first place.''

The government was complacent and allowed the "mess'' at Ornge to drag on far too long, added Gelinas.

"But so far the ministry has refused to look at their role in letting this unfold.''

The
Tories also blamed the Liberals for the scandal at Ornge, and said the
legislation was prepared a year ago – long before lengthy committee
hearings into the scandal last summer.

"This government cobbled
together this piece of legislation in haste in order to provide cover
for the ministry and minister's failure to do their job and provide the
appropriate oversight of the air ambulance service,'' said Elliott.

"To
this day, we still don't fully know what happened at Ornge because the
government refused to strike a select committee and because they were
unwilling to retrieve all the pertinent documents.''

Matthews
said the original 2005 performance agreement that led to Ornge's
ill-fated foray into the for-profit sector wasn't adequate to prevent
the abuse of taxpayer dollars, but the NDP said it was the government
that didn't force the agency to stick to the terms.

The health
minister said the bill will also allow the government to take control of
Ornge in extraordinary circumstances through the appointment of a
supervisor.

Ornge's former CEO, Chris Mazza, set up a series of
private for-profit entities under the Ornge banner, and hid his $1.4
million salary from the public.

His sky-high salary didn't stop
Mazza from billing taxpayers thousands of dollars in expenses for
luxurious trips to 75 cents for parking, or from taking $1.2 million in
loans in a single year from Ornge and its different subsidiaries.