Air ambulance founder testifies at Queen's Park
“They got nothing but praise from the government,” she said.
“They said 'This is why public-private partnerships are a good thing, and we are proud of what you have done.' Until a couple of hours before the minister pulled the plug, (Mazza) felt like they were proud of what they had achieved.”
Late last year, a series of newspaper articles revealed the taxpayer-funded Ornge had set up a web of for-profit companies, and Mazza was receiving a $1.4-million salary.
The organization is now under a criminal probe for financial irregularities. Mazza, who was recently hospitalized and is suffering from a mental illness, resigned from his post late last year, at the height of the scandal.
He was compelled to testify before the public accounts committee after a rare Speaker's order.
“I would say the more revealing part of his testimony is how this worked according to plan,” Gélinas, a member of the public accounts committee and the NDP's critic for health and long-term care, said.
“Ornge had always been set up with a view to develop these for-profit companies that would leverage the knowledge and skills of the air ambulance we were developing in Ontario, with a view to make a profit and reinvest those profits into Ontario's health care.”
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews has stated that she didn't know what was going on at Ornge before the story hit the newspapers, and was stonewalled when she tried to find out.
Gélinas said she doesn't believe that.
The public accounts committee has gathered “mountains” of evidence showing the government knew exactly what was happening at the air ambulance provider, she said.
“We have nothing to show the government was ever stonewalled.”
In fact, Mazza testified that he tried to get in contact with Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, but she wouldn't meet with him.
When he tried to brief the minister, she said she knew “the good work that's being done at Ornge” and didn't need a briefing, Gélinas said.
“Until it hit the front page of the paper, she was quite happy to live with this, and kept on encouraging it,” she said. “She kept on increasing (Ornge's) budget, even through times of recession and everything else.”
After the hearing, Matthews held a press conference, where she denied ever turning down meetings with Mazza.
“I actually went to Ornge in February 2011, met with front line staff, I expected him to be there and he wasn't there,” she told the Toronto Star.
“When I became aware of problems at Ornge, I actually called him for a meeting in my office and he didn't come. He sent the chair of his board and the COO.”
Gélinas said she expected Mazza to be a hostile witness because it took a Speaker's order to get him there.
However, although he couldn't remember all the dates for certain events — blaming it on his mental state — Gélinas said he answered questions the best he could, and never contradicted himself.
The answers he gave were backed up by the paper trail which has been amassed by the committee, she said.
“When you asked him a question, he was very generous in terms of giving you an answer and explanations, and giving real-life examples,” she said.
The public accounts committee is set to hear three more days of testimony on the issue between now and Aug. 2. After that, they'll write a preliminary report summarizing the testimony, Gélinas said.
They're also planning to write a second report on how the province's air ambulance services should be structured, which should be released sometime this fall, she said.
Posted by Arron Pickard