Update: see previous posts – March 31, 2012 ORNGE: Health Minister Considered Turning Funding Tap Off to ORNGE, March 27, 2012 ORNGE – Should Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews Accept Responsibility For the ORNGE Scandal?, March 23, 2012 ORNGE – Liberals Refuse To Release Salaries of ORNGE Executives on Sunshine List, March 22, 2012 ORNGE: Ontario’s Auditor General Uncovers More Questionable Deals at ORNGE Air Ambulance Service, March 21, 2012 ORNGE: Former Ontario Liberal Health Minister Blames Ministry Officials and Board for Scandal at ORNGE, March 17, 2012 ORNGE: Auditor General Jim McCarter to Release Probe Wednesday, March 12, 2012 ORNGE: Ontarians Expected to Pay An Annual Tab of $22 Million (in addition to $150 Million) for ORNGE, March 9, 2012 ORNGE: Too Many Needless Government Agencies in Ontario, March 8, 2012 ORNGE: Demotes Top Executive Who Lied About Possessing Master of Business Administration Degree, March 7, 2012 ORNGE – Current Health Minister (Deb Matthews) Blames Former Health Minister (George Smitherman), March 6, 2012 ORNGE – Helicopters’ Tail Rotors Could Fall Off, says Frank Klees, March 5, 2012 ORNGE – How Much Did Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews Really Know?, March 2, 2012 ORNGE – Sells Gift (Chopper) from AugustaWestland Valued at $50K for $30,001.01, March 1, 2012 ORNGE – Ontario Opposition Parties Call On McGuinty to Have All-Party Probe of ORNGE, March 1, 2012 ORNGE – Some ORNGE Helicopters Unable to Enter U.S.A. Airspace, February 28, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Official Says He Lied About His MBA, February 28, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Fiasco could Hurt Ontario’s Ability to Cut Deficit: Former Deputy Health Minister, February 24, 2012 ORNGE – Where’s the $25 Million Dollars?, February 22, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Mistakes Disrupt Patient Care/Safety, February 22, 2012 ORNGE – Cohn: ORNGE leaves a black mark on Deb Matthews’ ambitious health reforms February 21, 2012 ORNGE – Minister of Health Refuses to Resign Over the ORNGE Scandal February 21, 2012, ORNGE – ORNGE Executives Let Taxpayers Down: Dalton McGuinty, February 19, 2012 ORNGE – Message to 400 ORNGE Employees “Shut Up or Face Criminal Charges & Jail Time”, February 16, 2012 ORNGE – Ontario Provincial Police Set to Investigate ORNGE, February 13, 2012 ORNGE Founder Chris Mazza Used Air Ambulance Expertise for His Own Business Interests, February 12, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Gave $1.2 million in Loans (One for a House), Plus a Huge Cash Advance, to Founder Dr. Chris Mazza Over the Past 18 Months, February 10, 2012 ORNGE – Did Alf Apps Quit Fasken Martineau or Did Fasken Martineau Quit Alf Apps?, February 8, 2012 ORNGE Scandal Teaches Belated Lessons, February 7. 2012 ORNGE – Dr. Chris Mazza, February 4, 2012 ORNGE – Paid Fasken Martineau Lawyer’s $9 Million Dollars Between 2006-2012, February 3, 2012 ORNGE – Auditor Warned Province Four Years Ago that ORNGE was “Handing Out Money Like Water”, February 3, 2012 ORNGE – Dr. Chris Mazza/Maria Renzella Terminated Without Severance, January 30, 2012 ORNGE’s Travel Medical Plan Targeted Those With $20 Million in Net Worth, January 28, 2012 Doctor Chris Mazza on Extended Indefinite Medical Leave – Needs to Answer Million$ of Questions, January 28, 2012 ORNGE Transports Patients In Dangerously Designed ORNGE Helicopters, January 26, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Foundation Charity Shut-Down and Closed, January 26, 2012 ORNGE – Has Appointed a New Board of Directors, January 24, 2012 ORNGE – 18 Middle-Management & Charity Program Cut, January 22, 2012 ORNGE architect George Smitherman brokered meeting between Korean officials and ORNGE, January 16, 2012 ORNGE – “The Jig is Up”, December 29, 2011 There Are Some Red Faces at ORNGE, December 27, 2011 ORNGE Hires New Spin Doctor, December 26, 2011 Doctor’s Salary Quadruples In Four (4) Years to $1.4 Million, December 20, 2011 Wanted: Paramedics for Emergency Flights on ORNGE’s Air Ambulance Helicopters, December 6, 2011 Orangeh Gonna Tell The Taxpayers How Much of Their Money You’ve Spent on Yourself ?
George Smitherman regrets he was unable to foresee problems at ORNGE but points the finger squarely at health ministry bureaucrats for failing to notice the brewing storm at the air ambulance service.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Smitherman told reporters after speaking to the all-party Legislative committee probing the ORNGE scandal. As the Liberal health minister from 2003 to 2008, Smitherman helped create ORNGE.
“For the rest of my life I will regret that.”
The second day of hearings was marred with what the opposition called legal delay tactics thrown up to protect Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office. The so-called tactics didn’t work; both Smitherman and McGuinty’s Principal Secretary Jamison Steeve took the stand on Wednesday.
Smitherman and Steeve, who at one point served as Smitherman’s chief of staff, conceded the government dropped the ball on the ORNGE file.
“I think, we as a government, could have done better all along the way in making sure there was accountability at ORNGE to the government,” Steeve said.
Earlier this month, Auditor General Jim McCarter issued a searing indictment of the government’s lack of oversight at ORNGE. He found Ontario threw $50 million in funding increases at the service over five years but never checked how public money was being spent.
Smitherman, who gained the reputation of “Furious George” for his bulldog tendencies in the House and ability to get things done, said he is personally disappointed he couldn’t tell former CEO Dr. Chris Mazza and the board of directors “would seek to leverage public benefit for personal gain.”
But bureaucrats at the health ministry — a $47 billion organization with thousands of employees — should have known better, continued Smitherman.
“I really wonder if the ministry did their job,” he said, adding it is likely the warning signals occurred before Health Minister Deb Matthews took over the position in 2009 from David Caplan.
Health ministers and deputies come and go, said Smitherman, but it is the bureaucrats who are there “for ever and ever.”
Smitherman told the committee when he was health minister, Mazza was on the sunshine salary disclosure list and he earned only $298,000 a year — not the $1.4 million revealed by the Star.
“If I was the minister, there was no way in hell Chris Mazza would make $1.4 million and that they’d cook up some scheme they’d give Ontario back 3 per cent of earnings or whatever the heck that was about,” he said referring to the promise ORNGE could bring revenue back to the province.
He called the hotly contested ORNGE performance agreement a “scapegoat” and that it was a document with “quite a bit of power for the ministry to bring an entity back to heel.”
Yet Matthews has continually thrown Smitherman “under the bus” for what happened at ORNGE, said NDP MPP France Gélinas, a committee member. “She blamed him for not putting in an accountability agreement that wasn’t robust enough,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the ORNGE hearings ground to a halt over legal disputes such as whether a government lawyer should be present due to the Ontario Provincial Police probe.
Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees called the delay an “obstruction” and “unacceptable.”
Klees, also a committee member, noted during the federal Gomery Commission a parallel police and Parliamentary investigation occurred at the same time. Led by Justice John Gomery, the commission investigated the sponsorship scandal.
However, Liberal MPP David Zimmer said when there is the “possibility and probability of complex litigation” this is “no time for this committee to be flying by the seat of its pants.”
The committee may hold extra days of sitting next week during the Easter break.