By Sean Meyer/London Community News
Ontario’s auditor general has now detailed the full picture of financial mismanagement of the province’s air ambulance service.
Although the report, prepared by Auditor General Jim McCarter, reveals millions of wasted tax dollars and insufficient government oversight, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care is standing firm in her commitment to making sure the overhaul of Ornge is a success.
“I thank the auditor general for his report. It is, as always, a very thorough and thoughtful piece of work,” said Deb Matthews, who is also MP for London-North Centre. “I have committed to implementing, acting on each one of his recommendations. Many of them I have already acted on and I was very pleased to see he acknowledged that.”
Matthews said the information contained in McCarter’s 39-page report provides important insight into how Ornge can be saved through “much stronger oversight” of the organization.
The minister said she doesn’t see “a lot of news” in the report as the depths of mismanagement at Ornge, particularly under deposed president and CEO Dr. Chris Mazza. The revelation of Mazza’s $1.4 million salary, as reported in the Toronto Star, was one of the impetuses for launching the auditor general’s investigation.
Matthews would replace Mazza, and the rest of Ornge’s leadership, once the scandal began unfolding.
“The bottom line is we can do better and we should have done better,” Matthews said. “I can tell you I acted decisively when I became aware of issues.”
Matthews defends her actions in seeking out Ornge’s mismanagement by pointing to the assistance she provided when the McCarter was being “stonewalled” in his investigation.
“When the auditor general told me he was being stonewalled, not getting the information he needed, I acted very quickly,” Matthews said. “I had a meeting, and it wasn’t a pleasant meeting, with the leadership at Ornge and I told them very, very clearly that I expected them to co-operate fully. It was within days of that meeting that they did start to release information.”
Matthews said that was followed by her appointing a forensic audit for the service, which ultimately led to the OPP taking over that investigation.
As Matthews has said since appointing Ron McKerlie as the interim CEO of Ornge, the new leadership has made a significance difference. The minister stressed she has instructed Ornge to make patient safety its number one concern and that it has “already made improvements on that front.” In addition, Matthews said Ornge executives are in the process of winding down all the for-profit companies created under the service’s previous management.
Matthews said she understands how many of the opponents of the McGuinty government are trying to use the Ornge scandal as a political weapon, but she is committed to staying focused on the task at hand.
That task, Matthews said, is showing real results when she talks with Ornge employees.
“You know how I know I am on the right track? It’s when I go to Ornge bases and I talk to the front line staff,” Matthews said. “They are very pleased with the change in leadership and they are very pleased with the changes that are happening because of the change in leadership.”
Matthews said, with the benefit of hindsight, “there is no question” there are many things she would have done differently when it comes to Ornge. Matthews said she also accepts “my full share of responsibility for that.”
The minister, however, has repeatedly said that taking responsibility in no way means she plans to resign from her office.
Now that McCarter’s report is finished, Matthews said she, along with the entire McGuinty government, will make good use of it.
“When there is an auditor general’s report, we take that very seriously,” Matthews said. “We learn from our mistakes, make the changes necessary to fix the problem now, make sure it doesn’t happen again, and apply those lessons to other parts of government.”