WSIB head not sorry for $140,000 payout

The head of Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is making no apologies for claiming $140,000 in per diem pay last year, an expense the Progressive Conservatives call "just another example of rot in the McGuinty government."

The head of Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is making no apologies for claiming $140,000 in per diem pay last year, an expense the Progressive Conservatives called "just another example of rot in the McGuinty government."

Steve Mahoney, pictured in this 2008 photo, says he has no reason to be embarrassed after claiming $140,000 in per diem pay last year. ((WSIB))

WSIB chair Steve Mahoney dismissed accusations made by the Opposition that he misused public funds and went so far as to claim allowances for working extra days. 

"This is a huge job — it's a $4 billion corporation," he told CBC News in an interview. "It requires a tremendous amount of work and I take the work very seriously. I don't apologize for the amount of money I've been paid."

"The position of WSIB chair is supposed to be a part-time position with a per diem of $550 per day," said a news release from the Conservatives earlier Thursday.

"Mahoney has somehow managed to bill the taxpayer for $141,328.79 in 2008. Based on the WSIB per diem — this means that the 'part-time' WSIB chair collected 257 per diems — more per diems, in fact, than there are working days in the year."

He acknowledged the position was "technically" part time, but said it was not a "nine-to-five type of job."

"Every one of those per diems is backed up, and the Conservatives have all of the data," he said.

Tories accused of playing politics

But Conservative MPP Christine Elliott called the per diem pay "another example of the rot in the [Premier Dalton] McGuinty [Liberal] government." 

Elliott rose during Thursday's question period to reveal the latest allegations.

She has documents that, she alleges, show Mahoney claimed per diems for more than 51 work weeks last year.

"Mr. Mahoney expensed thousands of dollars for limos until they finally gave him a car," said Elliott.

"[He filed expenses for ] meals where he had no meetings, and travel to China, Australia, Hong Kong and elsewhere. He travelled so much, he got lost in Myrtle Beach, where he billed four days for one day of meetings, and then expensed a GPS system," she said.

The allegations come on the heels of eHealth and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation revelations — two scandals that precipitated the latest accusation, Mahoney said.

"It's about eHealth and it's about OLG," he said. "The Opposition smells some blood and think they can go after the government because they want to take some figures and use them to try to embarrass the government. But nothing I have done should embarrass anybody."

New policies in place

Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said the expenses were reviewed and acceptable under the policy in effect at the time.

"There is total recognition by the WSIB and our government that there are new policies in place," said Fonseca.

Mahoney said he claimed about $25,000 last year in expenses and doesn't think that is out of line for the head of a $4-billion corporation.

The government brought in new policies earlier this month after embarrassing revelations about expenses claimed by consultants and executives working for eHealth Ontario and the OLG.

Ontario public service employees are being issued new, simplified guidelines for travel, meals and hospitality expenses. 

The government has said the new measure "boils 25 pages of guidelines down to two pages."

Employees at the 22 largest boards and agencies will undergo mandatory online expense claim training.

And in a move aimed at increasing transparency following the expense scandals at the OLG and eHealth Ontario, the expenses of "senior management, cabinet ministers, political staff and senior executives at Ontario's 22 largest agencies will be posted online. This will start no later than April 1, 2010," the province said.

Random audits increased

The province also announced it plans to increase the number of its random audits on Ontario's agencies, boards and commissions. 

In late August, the province fired Kelly McDougald as CEO of the OLG, claiming the corporation had approved "unacceptable" expenses from lottery executives. 

The entire OLG board resigned the same day, while the government called in the auditor general to determine if any rules were broken when executives billed taxpayers for expensive dinners, memberships to Weight Watchers, gyms and golf clubs.

McDougald has filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit, claiming as much as $9 million in damages.

In June, Sarah Kramer was fired as the head of eHealth Ontario because of a controversy surrounding spending and expenses since she took over the new agency.

A report by the auditor general on the eHealth scandal is expected next week.