Ex-McGill hospital boss says he was victim of 'spurious' attacks

Dr. Arthur Porter, the former CEO of a new super-hospital in Montreal that has been the subject of huge cost overruns, an anti-corruption probe and a damning government report, told the CBC's Terence McKenna that he has done nothing wrong.

Elusive Dr. Arthur Porter at cancer clinic in Bahamas

The elusive Dr. Porter

11 years ago
Duration 3:44
Featured VideoCBC's Terence McKenna sits down with one of the most elusive figures in the Quebec corruption scandal: Dr. Arthur Porter, once trusted with reviewing Canada's spy agency

One of the most elusive figures in Quebec's growing number of corruption scandals has emerged after almost a year as a virtual fugitive.

In an exclusive interview with the CBC's Terence McKenna, Dr. Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Centre, defended  himself against allegations of mismanagement and any wrongdoing in the construction of the new super-hospital in Montreal's West end.

Last month, an official investigation by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services blamed Dr. Porter and the former board of directors of the MUHC for massive cost overruns at MUHC, as well as a hospital deficit that could reach $115 million this year, a record for a Quebec hospital.

The audit said that the MUHC administration had engaged in some questionable real estate investments and had paid out nearly $30 million in wages for work that had not been approved by its budget committee.

In an interview at his health clinic in the Bahamas, Porter says he has done nothing wrong, and characterizes the allegations against him as "spurious" and the result of a "witch hunt."

Dr. Arthur Porter touring Prime Minister Stephen Harper through the old Montreal General Hospital in 2006. (300)

"I mean it just seemed that there were attacks from all angles," he told CBC News.

"I mean if you looked at each piece maybe you would say, 'OK,  maybe that's an issue, that's an issue.' But it just seemed to be that I was responsible for the snow fall in Montreal."

Until December 2011, Dr. Porter was the chief executive officer of the McGill University Health Center (MUHC), in charge of one of Canada's largest public construction projects, a $1.3 billion hospital complex.  

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was so impressed with Porter that he appointed him to several blue-ribbon health advisory boards.

Then, in 2008, to the surprise of many, the prime minister also appointed Porter to the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the body that oversees Canada's intelligence service.

This made him privy to the country's most closely guarded secrets.  

Porter had to resign from that job when the National Post revealed that he had entered into a secret contract with Ari Ben-Menashe, a controversial international businessman, to solicit $120 million in Russian government financing for Sierra Leone, the country where Dr. Porter was born. The money was to go through a Porter family company.

At the time, Dr. Porter was also claiming to be Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Sierra Leone, an apparent conflict of interest with his Ottawa appointment at SIRC.  

Only weeks after the article appeared, Porter resigned from his position at the MUHC, three months before the end of his contract, and left the country early in 2012.

Then, in September 2012, police from Montreal's anti-corruption squad raided the MUHC offices seeking evidence of financial irregularity.  

In November, two senior executives of the company responsible for the hospital construction, SNC Lavalin, were charged with fraud in connection with the hospital project, which Porter was overseeing.

But Dr. Porter categorically denies that he was aware of any of this that might have been going on. "No, no I don't know anything about this."  

He also told the CBC that he has neither spoken with, or been contacted by police.

He is, however, being sued by McGill for over $300,000 for payment due on a low-interest loan, among other things.

But he now says that he has a new challenge and that his priorities have been radically redefined.

Last week, while studying his own X-rays, taken after a persistent chest infection, he says he discovered evidence of lung cancer, which he says has spread and is inoperable.

He will undergo radiation and chemotherapy here at his own clinic and says he is "prepared like any other battle that you find. You go into it with the idea to win that's the way I always go."