NEWS

Tories accuse minister of misleading public about ousted Ornge CEO's salary

12/04/2013 11:48 EST | Updated 02/03/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Health Minister Deb Matthews is misleading the public by saying she supplied a legislative committee with all available information about how much Orge's ousted CEO was paid, the Progressive Conservatives charged.

Matthews insisted Wednesday she's already given the committee probing the scandal all the documents about Chris Mazza's compensation while he was at the helm of the province's troubled air ambulance service, including T4s, expenses and loans.

But the mountain of paper didn't include a final report by government forensic auditors, which Matthews said she didn't read before sending it to the Ontario Provincial Police for their investigation into Ornge's finances.

It's been reported Ornge, which gets about $150 million from the province a year, provided documents to the auditors that showed Mazza collected $9.3 million over six years — far more than previously disclosed.

The information given to the committee only shows that he was paid about $5.7 million, said Tory Frank Klees.

Matthews intentionally sat on an important document that she knew the all-party committee was entitled to have, he said.

"I believe she was counselled to claim plausible deniability," said Klees.

"She was told that this information should not go to the committee, and I believe that that is a condemnation of this minister's track record."

The committee passed several motions Wednesday asking the government specifically for the audit report, all related documents and an update from the OPP on its criminal investigation of Ornge.

They're also asking that Matthews appear again before the committee to answer questions.

"The minister is lying to you when she says the parliamentary committee had all of that information," Klees said. "She's equivocating, she's twisting words, and I think both the parliamentary committee, this legislature, the public is fed up with that performance."

The minister said she didn't hide anything.

She read an interim audit report, but didn't read the final report in July 2012 because doing so could have given the appearance of political interference in a police investigation, Matthews said.

"One year's compensation was enough for me to order a forensic audit," she said.

"I took it and I take it extremely seriously. That's why Chris Mazza is gone. That's why his entire board is gone. That's why there's new management doing really good things at Ornge."

But Matthews said she didn't try to find out how much money Mazza actually collected, even though the province's air ambulance service has been embroiled in allegations of financial mismanagement, exorbitant salaries and questionable business deals for nearly two years.

The New Democrats said it's the minister's job to add up the numbers for taxpayers, not the all-party committee or the media.

Matthews said the audit included compensation — which raises questions about why the interim report and final report wasn't delivered to the committee when they had specifically asked for all documents related to Mazza's pay.

"It seems like every step with Ornge has to be a battle against the government," said NDP health critic France Gelinas. "And then when I hear her say things like she ordered a forensic audit and doesn't read it, the message is so loud in my mind. She refuses to learn, she refuses to change."

Mazza's salary disappeared from the so-called sunshine list of top paid public sector workers after 2007, when his salary was listed at $285,000.

The committee heard that over the years, his compensation grew exponentially to $1.4 million. He received hundreds of thousands of dollars for being a medical director of Ornge and was given loans totalling $1.2 million in a single year.

Ornge is trying to recover some of the money from Mazza who is now working as an emergency physician at a Thunder Bay hospital. He's counter suing, alleging that he's owned $1 million in unpaid bonuses.

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 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.

MORE:cpNews