Deb Matthews to testify again at Ornge hearings
Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews listens to questions from the media following a press conference regarding the state of ORNGE helicopter transport services in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Pawel Dwulit)
Published Sunday, July 29, 2012 9:12AM EDT
TORONTO -- Ontario's embattled air ambulance service will be in the spotlight again this week as Health Minister Deb Matthews faces another day of grilling by a legislative committee Tuesday about her oversight of Ornge.
There will be three more days of hearings by the committee looking into financial irregularities at Ornge, which is also the subject of a criminal probe by provincial police.
Matthews has already testified once, saying her ministry was kept in the dark by Ornge while it set up a complex web of spin-off companies with taxpayers' money to look for new revenue sources.
Much of what Matthews told the committee was contradicted by former CEO Chris Mazza during his emotional appearance last week, said Frank Klees, a Conservative member of the committee.
"We're looking forward to hopefully clearing up some of the contradictory testimony that we have had from Mazza that does not square with what the minister has been saying, or with what some of the civil servants have been telling us in their testimony," said Klees.
The committee tried to recall Mazza for this week's sessions, but his doctors have sent a letter saying he is medically unfit to testify.
Gelinas wasn't surprised Mazza declined to reappear after his lawyers shared part of a confidential medical assessment with the committee members to show he is not fit to testify.
"When I saw him last he did not look well," she said.
Two Speaker's warrants had to be issued to force Mazza's original appearance, but the committee accepted he will not testify this week after members were briefed on his medical condition.
The New Democrats said Matthews' claims of being kept in the dark by Ornge just don't fly.
"Her story and many, many other people's stories cannot be part of the same history book. They don't match," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
"So somebody has to explain how she can say they were stonewalled and were trying to get information, when really they had all of the information they could ever have wanted."
Matthews painted a picture of a rogue organization that was stonewalling government officials about a complex web of for-profit spin off companies set up at Ornge during her testimony in March.
But Mazza insisted the health ministry always knew about changes he was making and never told him Ornge was veering off course.
"We were never a rogue organization," Mazza testified.
The committee wants to find out why the Liberal government wasn't fully aware of what Mazza was doing at Ornge and why it didn't move sooner to rein him in.
"If the ministry did not have information, it was because they did not do their job to demand that information," said Klees.
"There's a lack of oversight that rests at the minister's door, and we hope to get some answers on that."
The New Democrats said the Liberals were blinded by their desire to see Ornge succeed as an example of a successful public-private partnership.
"There were lots of political reasons why they did not want this thing to fail, and they looked away when the warning bells were going off," said Gelinas.
"This agency had run amok, and they let it go."
The former chairman of the Ornge board of directors, Rainer Beltzner is being recalled to testify at the committee Wednesday.
The Tories are also looking for reassurances from Matthews that the search for a new CEO for Ornge will make experience in running an air ambulance service a criteria for the job.
"It apparently wasn't when they gave the first contract to Mazza," said Klees.
"I'm hoping that they won't make that same mistake twice."