eHealth Ontario is not for sale: Wynne's privatization guru

The man who advised Premier Kathleen Wynne's government to sell a majority stake in Hydro One is now examining eHealth Ontario — but he insists that doesn't mean another "For Sale" sign is about to appear.

Ed Clark recommended selling Hydro One. Now he's sizing up the province's digital health system.

Ed Clark, the former president of TD Bank Group, is being asked to advise the Wynne government on how to "maximize the value" of Ontario's digital medical records system, including the eHealth agency. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The man who advised Premier Kathleen Wynne's government to sell a majority stake in Hydro One is now examining eHealth Ontario — but he insists that doesn't mean another "For Sale" sign is about to appear.

Ed Clark, the former president of TD Bank Group, is being asked for recommendations on how to "maximize the value" of the province's digital medical system. 

eHealth Ontario, a government-owned independent agency, has spent in the range of $350 million to $400 million annually over the past several years to build a system of electronic medical records for patients.  

Clark says that selling any part of the province's digital health infrastructure is "absolutely" off the table. 

"There's nothing in eHealth that anybody could think about selling," Clark told reporters in Toronto on Monday. 

He said he'll be looking for ways the government can "get more out of" the digital health network. "Some of the stuff is so good that people want to license it and do it in other provinces," Clark said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has sought the advice of Ed Clark (left) on maximizing the value of such government assets as Hydro One, the LCBO and now eHealth Ontario. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)

Still, his assignment has critics nervous. Clark was given a similar mission back in 2014 — to give advice on how to "maximize the value" of Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the LCBO. That led to the government's move to privatize Hydro One, selling up to 60 per cent of its shares on the stock market. 

Clark's statement on eHealth "does not reassure me," NDP finance critic Catherine Fife told CBC News. "His experience in valuing public assets means selling public assets."

While Clark is often labelled the government's "privatization czar," he insists his role chairing the province's Advisory Council on Government Assets is broader than just finding Crown agencies to privatize.

"It's not like we have a little formula that says, 'Sell, sell, sell,' no matter what it is," Clark said. He's been given a deadline to provide his advice on eHealth by Christmas. 

The government and eHealth fell short of the original target to ensure every Ontarian had a digital medical record by 2015. About 80 per cent of family doctors are currently using electronic health records. 

In the Legislature on Monday, Wynne tried to allay fears that the system of digital medical records could be privatized. 

"Patient information is not and will not and never should be up for sale," Wynne said. "I think it's responsible as eHealth reaches the end of its mandate in 2017 that we understand the value of those investments and we look at whether there is a way to understand the value of those digital assets."

"eHealth is not for sale," added deputy premier Deb Matthews.