Ornge air ambulance service to be subject to FOI law
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.
"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.
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."
Give ombudsman oversight: NDP
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.