'She would not go there at all'
The health minister was questioned by the public accounts committee about the scandal at the beleaguered air ambulance service for the second time July 31.
The committee, of which Gélinas is a member, wanted to question her further after Ornge founder and former CEO Chris Mazza's testimony last month. Mazza stated the ministry was “proud” of the work being done by Ornge until the scandal hit the media.
Matthews has maintained she didn't know what was happening at Ornge, and was stonewalled when she tried to find out.
While there was “absolutely” wrongdoing at Ornge, Gélinas said Matthews needs to take some blame for what happened.
“I wanted her to say we had a duty of oversight, here's how we made mistakes, and here's how we're going to do things better within the ministry so it doesn't happen again,” Gélinas, the NDP's critic for health and long-term care, said. “She would not go there at all.”
Instead, Matthews “picked a fight” with Progressive Conservative transportation critic and public accounts committee member Frank Klees, and “accused him of everything under the sun,” she said.
“When it came to me, she turned the tables on me and said I had the same information she had, so why didn't I do something?” Gélinas said.
“That was a little bit ridiculous. It seems like the answer is clear. It's because I'm not the minister, you are. I cannot direct the bureaucracy to do things, you can.”
The fact that Matthews is refusing to accept responsibility concerns Gélinas.
The health ministry transfers funds to thousands of agencies, she said.
If the ministry did such a poor job in overseeing Ornge's activities, “then it leaves me really uncomfortable that there may be other little Ornges out there,” she said.
Klees put out a press release after Matthews' testimony, calling on the minister to resign.
Matthews was confronted at the committee with an internal Ministry of Health document raising numerous concerns about the financial dealings of Ornge, the press release said.
Written by senior bureaucrats and copied to six high-ranking ministry officials, the document states that the Ontario government is on the hook for the $300-million debt incurred by Ornge.
“I simply don't believe the minister when she insists she never saw this document,” Klees said. “If it's true that six senior bureaucrats didn't give that information to her, then they should be given their walking papers along with the minister.”
Instead of asking Matthews to resign, Gélinas is asking her to take responsibility for what happened at Ornge.
But “if she continues to refuse to accept any responsibility from her side of the equation, then yes, I can see the day when she would be forced to resign,” she said.
With Matthews as the exception, those providing testimony before the public accounts committee seem to be getting more co-operative as it becomes clear what happened at Ornge, Gélinas said.
She cites the example of Rainer Beltzner, the former chair of Ornge's board of directors, who was recently called back to be questioned by the committee.
“He was not very co-operative the first time,” Gélinas said. “We called him back, and he was a whole lot more co-operative. He basically spilled the beans.”
Beltzner, who gave his testimony Aug. 1, went into detail about how Mazza came to have a $1.4 million salary.
He said Mazza was paid bonuses on top of his $500,000 base salary based on his own evaluation of his job performance. Beltzner also said Mazza received payments as Ornge's medical director, but the board later learned he wasn't providing those services.
He also denied the board knew about an extra $6.7 million Ornge paid for new helicopters. There have been allegations that the extra payment was part of a kickback scheme to one of Ornge's for-profit companies.
Now that its hearings on the Ornge scandal have wrapped up, the public accounts committee is in the process of writing a draft report based on the testimony.
Gélinas said the committee is also due to write a report with recommendations for the future of Ornge, but there are several issues which may prevent it from being written in a timely fashion.
First of all, Klees wants one of the recommendations to be Matthews' resignation, but the Liberal members of the committee won't agree to that, Gélinas said.
Further complicating matters is the fact that legislative committees are disbanded and then reassembled when a new session in the legislature starts — something which is scheduled to happen Sept. 10.
But with two by-elections slated for this fall, the Liberals are likely going to hold off on allowing committees to reconvene, Gélinas said.
The Liberals currently have a minority in the legislature, meaning they're outnumbered in committees. However, with the by-elections, they could gain a majority, meaning they'd dominate the committee structure once again, Gélinas said.
Posted by Arron Pickard