NEWS

Minister says she never added up how much money ousted Ornge CEO Chris Mazza got

12/03/2013 03:59 EST | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ontario's health minister says she never calculated how much Ornge's ousted CEO made during his time at the troubled air ambulance service, even though allegations of undisclosed payments and financial mismanagement have been swirling for almost two years.

Chris Mazza, who was axed in 2012, reportedly collected $9.3 million over six years, far more than previously disclosed and never divulged publicly.

Even though it's been known for months that Mazza was paid a huge salary on top of hefty loans from Ornge, Health Minister Deb Matthews said she didn't try to find out the total amount.

"I hadn't added up six years worth of payments," she said Tuesday. "Why would I?"

When a legislative committee looking into the scandal-plagued Ornge heard that Mazza had made $1.4 million in a single year, "that was good enough for me," she said.

"I knew that Mazza had to go, and that's why he's gone. I knew the board had to go and that's why they're gone."

She confirmed that a forensic audit done by the government wasn't provided to the committee probing Ornge.

Matthews, who ordered the audit in December 2011, said she didn't even look at the final report when it was sent to her ministry in July 2012.

A single hard copy of the report, which may contain more information about how much Mazza collected, was sent unopened to a provincial police team that's still investigating Ornge's finances.

Her deputy minister didn't look at it either, Matthews said, as they didn't want to "inadvertently impact" the OPP investigation.

But all the information about Mazza's salary was included in the millions of pages of documents her ministry sent to the committee, she said.

The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats insist the committee never got information that indicated that Mazza made $9.3 million.

Both parties say Matthews should lose her job.

"This was a forensic audit of the operations and financial dealings of an organization embroiled in scandal under her watch, and this minister tells us that she didn't even bother to open the envelope," Conservative Frank Klees said in the legislature.

Matthews is in contempt of parliament because she didn't provide every piece of correspondence and information that related to the financials of Ornge and all the payments made to Mazza, he charged.

"Why does she continue to hold the portfolio she does? She's not worthy of the title," he said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne defended Matthews, saying she's an "excellent health minister and she is transforming the health-care system so it will be sustainable for generations to come."

Matthews turning a blind eye to how much taxpayer money Mazza collected is "disturbing," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"She's basically doing a bit of a runaround and doing a catch me if you can in terms of what she knew about Mr. Mazza's compensation. That's unacceptable," Horwath said.

"The bottom line is, as minister of health, she needs to know these things."

Ontario's auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.

The Liberals insist Ornge — which receives about $150 million a year from the province — went rogue with a web of for-profit companies and questionable business deals, as well as exorbitant salaries and lavish expenses.

The all-party committee has heard that the Liberals allowed Ornge to set up its for-profit entities, but didn't pay attention to what was going on. Those subsidiaries are now bankrupt.

Last August, the committee heard that Mazza received at least $1.4 million in compensation, including bonuses. He also received about $1.2 million in loans in a single year, according to documents tabled with the committee.

They include payslips between 2006 and 2011 showing Mazza collected $5.1 million.

Mazza, who is currently working at a hospital, is suing Ornge for $1 million in what he alleges are unpaid bonuses that he's owed.

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