Kevin Donovan and Tanya Talaga/Torstar News Service
ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza used air ambulance money to fund a consulting job for his water-ski-instructor-turned-girlfriend. That was the beginning of a meteoric rise that saw Kelly Long reach associate vice-president of ORNGE just before she and Mazza lost their jobs in late December.
Long is expected to testify Wednesday at a Queen’s Park committee probing ORNGE. Mazza is to testify May 16.
Long’s background was waitressing and teaching watersports when she was hired by Pathway Group, a public relations and lobby firm, in December 2005. According to ORNGE and Pathway insiders, Mazza wanted Long to build her resumé and eventually join him at ORNGE, where he was president and chief executive officer.
Records of payments provided by ORNGE show it has paid Pathway Group $380,000 since 2005, with the biggest annual chunk ($128,000) in 2006, the year Long worked there. Records do not show the total amount Long was paid by Pathway or ORNGE.
Back in late 2005, ORNGE was just being created by the Ontario government. At the time, Mazza had just begun using Pathway Group, a partnership of consultants, some Liberal, some Conservative.
Mazza, a water ski enthusiast, had met and become close friends with Long, a former water ski instructor who worked as an account manager at a Newmarket water ski club.
Kelly Mitchell, one of the Pathway Group partners, received a call from Mazza in October 2005, asking him if he would hire a young woman to work as a consultant.
Mitchell did not need a new consultant, but — eager to continue doing business with ORNGE — he decided to do Mazza a favour. He interviewed Long in December 2005 and hired her with a start date of early January 2006.
Long had no government background (along with water ski instructing she had worked as a waitress for a time.) Pathway Group used her to organize several golf tournament fundraisers and to do administrative work. She did all of this from home because the small consultancy had only a virtual office.
By August 2006, Mazza was frustrated. He told Pathway Group that it was not giving Long engaging work. She was better than an administrative staffer, Mazza told Mitchell.
Mazza’s solution was to second Long from Pathway to work at ORNGE. This happened in September 2006 and lasted until December 2006, when she was put on permanent staff at ORNGE.
The contract, between Ontario Air Ambulance (which became ORNGE) and Pathway Group, provides the full-time services of a Pathway employee (Long) on a secondment basis starting August 15, 2006. Pathway was paid $8,836 plus GST each month, along with all approved expenses, the contract states. Long was also to be provided with “necessary equipment and office space, secretarial and other office services.”
Mazza signed the contract along with ORNGE’s Maria Renzella, vice-president of finance, and Mitchell, president of Pathway.
It is unclear how much of the ORNGE money that went to Pathway in the first part of 2006 flowed to Long and how much stayed with Pathway.
An ORNGE staffing announcement states that “Kelly comes to us from Pathway Group where she worked on ORNGE projects prior to working with us in our offices for several months on a number of initiatives.”
“Kelly officially starts on Dec. 1, 2006 and will focus on community relations program implementation including the Pits to Pads program, health promotion, community outreach and public relations and ongoing stakeholder relationship management.”
While at ORNGE on secondment, Long was in charge of Mazza’s “Pits to Pads” project, a plan he had to convert gravel pits to helicopter pads. One water-filled gravel and stone quarry Long found in the Guelph area was also briefly used to test a $40,000 Air Nautique ski boat that Mazza had ORNGE purchase. Former executive Jacob Blum recalls driving down to Guelph and finding the speedboat slicing through the water with Long on board.
Records at Pathway show that during her secondment, Long worked on the “helipad project” and “alpine safety.” The latter likely deals with the death of Mazza’s son in a skiing accident in early 2006. Mazza created a charity (now defunct) that sought to teach youth how to do winter and summer sports safely.
Long also enrolled in the Richard Ivey executive MBA program at the University of Western Ontario at a cost to ORNGE of about $90,000. She graduated in 2011.
Pathway describes itself as “a full-service government relations and public affairs firm comprised of seasoned professionals with significant experience in government.” Principals include Mitchell, whose biography on the company website notes he has “worked extensively with the Ontario government” and has a “vast procurement and policy development knowledge (that) originates from his firsthand experience as the chief of staff and senior policy adviser to numerous cabinet ministers in the government of Ontario.”
After Long left Pathway Group, the government relations firm continued to do work for ORNGE, though their billings were lower.
ORNGE records show that Long moved up rapidly. In January 2007, she was a “communications officer/stakeholder relations officer” working for the non-profit ORNGE. She was promoted in March 2009 to “supervisor, stakeholder relations” for the newly formed ORNGE PEEL, a for-profit company. Then in March 2010, she was made “director, health-care relations” for the non-profit ORNGE. On Jan. 1, 2011, the for-profit ORNGE Global appointed Long to be “director of sales and marketing.” Just 23 days later she was promoted at ORNGE Global to “associate vice-president marketing and relationship management” at ORNGE Global.
When the for-profit companies were put into bankruptcy last January in the wake of the Star’s investigation, both Long and Mazza lost their jobs. They were not paid severance.
Kelly Mitchell of Pathway appears to have received additional money around the time of the secondment.
The contract states the services of the contractor includes providing “strategic advice, assistance, advocacy, communications and consultation provided by Kelly Mitchell of the Pathway Group Inc.,” for three hours a month at a rate of $1,000 a month.
And for 10 hours a month, not to exceed $3,000 per month, the contractor was to help with (ORNGE) board of director’s development; assistance, advocacy and communication consultation regarding an alpine safety program; advice and assistance in “corporate connections with a view to revenue generation and strategic partnership” and work on the “Stones” project — with key milestones to be discussed.
Also, the services of the Pathway Group employee shall be to work on the “Stones” project, provide stakeholder strategy and relations, help with liaison between the OAA and Pathway, and, help with the alpine safety program. The services are billed on a monthly basis at a maximum of $4,836, the contract stated.
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was originally published in the Toronto Star (www.thestar.com), which is credited for breaking the original story on the mismanagement of Ornge while continuing to provide comprehensive reporting on the ongoing issues.