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Ornge scandal could have been prevented if oversight granted: Ombudsman

06/19/2012 12:20 EDT | Updated 08/19/2012 05:12 EDT

An Ontario watchdog says scandals like Ornge may have been prevented if he had the authority to investigate the troubled air ambulance service.

Ombudsman Andre Marin is warning the governing Liberals that he must have oversight over any public services that are privatized to stop similar abuses of the public trust.

He says the government must heed the lessons learned from Ornge, which is currently under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.

Marin says his office received 17 complaints about Ornge since 2005 — including alleged misuse of funds — but he didn't have the authority to investigate them.

In his annual report, Marin repeated his appeal for oversight of Ontario's hospitals — a power every other provincial ombudsman has.

He noted that his office received 18,500 complaints over the past year, up 27 per cent from the previous year.

Marin's appeal for more oversight over public services comes as the government tries to get a budget bill through the legislature that's sparked a war with the opposition parties.

The New Democrats failed to win amendments to the bill that they say would have provided more oversight of the privatization of ServiceOntario, prompting them to risk the Liberals' wrath by trying to kill that section of the bill.

Marin expressed his disappointment Tuesday over his inability to investigate complaints about air ambulances or hospitals, saying the government must learn from the debacle at Ornge.

Ornge "played fast and loose with public funds and trust," and is "crying out for independent oversight," he said in the report released Tuesday.

"Hospitals remain barred from my oversight (and to anyone seeking independent investigation) like some kind of medieval fortress — as do the Ornge helicopters that land there," he said.

The ombudsman's report even included a photo illustration of Marin standing behind barbed wire and a padlocked gate, trying to get into a fortress topped with a hospital sign and an Ornge helicopter hovering overhead.

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