Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Article by Frank Klees, MPP
Newmarket-Aurora
As published in the Auroran
August 14, 2012

The Ornge Vortex

Over the past few months, the legislative hearings into the Ornge air ambulance scandal have been making headlines on a regular basis...... PCs Push Liberals for New Ornge Probe......Questions of Political Influence Swirl Over Ornge.....Sex, Money and Helicopters..... Whistle-blower Suspended After Testifying at Probe....

A few weeks into the hearings, a friend warned me that my work on this file may bring unwelcome consequences. "These are powerful people" he said, " And you're getting uncomfortably close to exposing the underbelly of this scandal. Watch yourself."

He was right, and I admit that even after being on the forefront of many contentious issues during my seventeen years in the legislature, I was not prepared for what was to come.

A culture of fear and intimidation at Ornge

It didn't take long for the committee to get a glimpse into what life was like for the front line staff at Ornge. Witness after witness testified that they feared the consequences of speaking out against the mismanagement that they knew was putting patients at risk and abusing scarce healthcare dollars. So intense was the intimidation, that one former senior executive testified he developed a serious drug dependency and suffered a mental and physical breakdown. This was the culture, in an organization that was entrusted to deliver our province's air ambulance service.

A question : Where was the Minister of Health and her ministry ?

The Auditor General of Ontario chastised the ministry of health for failing in its oversight responsibilities of Ornge. Numerous witnesses confirmed that the Minister of Health and her bureaucracy were kept apprised of developments at Ornge - right down to the spawning of a complex scheme of for-profit companies that were siphoning tax dollars into international business ventures. All the while, front line staff were told that there wasn't enough money to properly staff Ontario air and ground ambulance bases with qualified medics and pilots.

A more important question: Where was the Premier ?

The Premier denied knowing anything about what was going on at Ornge when I questioned him in the legislature in April of 2011. He insisted that he had only met Chris Mazza briefly on a whirlwind tour of Northern Ontario. Yet, the committee heard sworn testimony that there was more than one occasion at which the Premier heard from Chris Mazza about his plans for Ornge. It seems that selective memory is a condition shared by the entire McGuinty cabinet.

The intimidation of witnesses . It's a criminal offence.

More disturbing than the refusal of the Minister and the Premier to accept responsibility for the scandal that was allowed to fester under their watch, is the ongoing intimidation of witnesses who have mustered the courage to come forward to testify. One former Ornge executive who had the courage to appear at the hearings, received threatening phone calls and emails in the days leading up to his testimony.

A well-respected veteran helicopter pilot for Ornge in Thunder Bay was suspended within hours of testifying at the committee. And this, under the Minister's so-called new management team. Ornge claims the suspension is not related to his testimony. Just a coincidence ?

Back to my friend's warning. Two weeks ago, I became the subject of a ruthless smear campaign. A lengthy unsigned letter was delivered to media outlets, MPPs and an undetermined number of other destinations. It misrepresents everything from my education to business experience and relationships, and is clearly meant to intimidate me as a member of the legislative committee probing the Ornge scandal. It won't work.

In fact, I will be asking the Speaker of the House and the OPP to launch an investigation  to determine the cowardly source behind this illegal activity. It's a criminal offence to intimidate participants in a parliamentary hearing, whether that be a witness or a Member of Parliament. These intimidation tactics have only strengthened my resolve to get to the bottom of the Ornge scandal; and now, just as important, is finding out who is behind this intimidation campaign. Any thoughts ?

Would it surprise you to learn that the Liberal members of the committee probing the Ornge scandal put forward a motion to end the hearings ? They insisted we had heard enough. The NDP joined with us to defeat that motion. There are too many questions yet unanswered. Among those questions...... Why did the Premier and the Minister choose to ignore the warnings about the questionable business practices at Ornge ? Why did they stand by and allow the waste of millions of tax dollars and more important, allow patient care to be compromised ?

The legislature resumes in September ........

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