Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Article by Frank Klees, MPP
March 27, 2012

Auditor General on ORNGE: Didn't Pass the Smell Test

 

In my last column, I told you that I met with the Auditor General last summer to discuss my concerns about what was going on at ORNGE, Ontario's air ambulance service.

I also explained that I had attempted to bring those same concerns to the attention of the Premier, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health as far back as April of 2011, but my warnings in the legislature were met with an arrogant dismissal.

This past week, it was gratifying to see that my concerns and the information that I conveyed to the Auditor General were validated in his Special Report on ORNGE.

In a scathing indictment, the Auditor General confirmed that the Minister of Health and senior government officials, including senior advisors to the Premier had ignored what should have been obvious signs of trouble at ORNGE.

Another Billion Dollar Scandal

In addition to the more than $700 million that the Ministry of Health gave to ORNGE since 2006 to provide air ambulance service, taxpayers are on the hook for another$300 million that was borrowed through companies owned by the President, members of senior management and the Board of Directors of ORNGE.

Here's the real scandal....

In a letter addressed to the Minister of Health and copied to Deputy Ministers in three ministries and senior advisers to the Premier and the Minister of Finance, ORNGE's outrageous scheme was described in great detail. And yet, not one among them triggered to the fact that the public interest may be at risk......

Or did they?

"To the nose of this watchdog, this just didn't pass the smell test "

These were the exact words used by the Auditor General when he tabled his report in the legislature on March 21. He was referring to that scheme of non-profit and for-profit spinoff companies that was disclosed in such detail to those senior government officials, including the Minister of Health.

There has not been one person, with whom I've discussed this issue, who believes that the alarm bells didn't go off - at least in the minds of those civil servants who were fully aware of their responsibilities to protect the public interest. So why the silence ? Who and what was behind the silencing ?

Friends of the Premier and the Liberal Party played key roles .........

We know that one of the key architects of the complex corporate scheme at ORNGE was the former Liberal Party President, who collected millions in legal fees for his advice. We know that the former Chief of Staff to the Premier and Liberal Party Campaign Director, facilitated numerous meetings between the government and ORNGE. We also know that key positions at ORNGE were populated by Liberal insiders and former staff of Liberal cabinet ministers.

Who knew what and when ?

On March 28, the Public Accounts Committee of the legislature will begin hearings on the Auditor General's Report. Unfortunately the scope of those hearings are limited, and the Committee will not be able to call the witnesses who have the answers as to the important questions about who influenced whom and why this scandal was allowed to spin out of control right under the nose of the Premier, the Minister and numerous public officials.

That's why the legislature passed my Motion on March 20th to establish an All-Party Select Committee of the legislature for the express purpose of investigating the ORNGE scandal. That Select Committee would be empowered to call a wide range of witnesses and would not be limited to the narrow scope of the legislature's Standing Committees.

The objective of that Committee would be twofold:

First, to get to the bottom of who knew what and when and who was responsible for waste and mismanagement at ORNGE.

Second, and most important, to hear from current and former front line staff at ORNGE about what went wrong, and what needs to be done to restore confidence in Ontario's air ambulance service. 

Those employees would be granted whistleblower protection to ensure that there are no reprisals against them for testifying before the Committee.

Every Liberal MPP voted against the Select Committee

Although the McGuinty government has made it clear that they will do everything possible to stop the striking of a Select Committee, the NDP have committed to support our PC Caucus in its efforts to force these hearings. 

When asked if he believes that there are other issues at ORNGE that are still uncovered, the Auditor General replied, "I am 99 % sure that there are other companies and other issues."

The public deserves to know and we intend to do our part to get those answers.

To view the full report by the Auditor General, visit www.auditor.on.ca

As always, I look forward to your comments and advice. I can be reached at 905 750 0019 or through my website at www.frank-klees.on.ca