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NDP want health minister to return to Ornge committee following Mazza testimony

TORONTO - Health Minister Deb Matthews says she's willing to answer more questions about Ornge from a legislative committee probing Ontario's troubled air ambulance service.

The New Democrats plan to recall Matthews, saying the testimony of ousted Ornge CEO Chris Mazza flies in the face of her claim that she was unaware of what was going on at Ornge.

Mazza told the committee Wednesday that the Ministry of Health was regularly briefed on Ornge's activities and supported its efforts to build a web of spinoff companies that later made questionable business deals.

Ornge, which is winding up those for-profit subsidiaries, is currently under a criminal investigation for financial irregularities. Allegations of bloated executive salaries, exorbitant perks and the misuse of public dollars have been swirling for months.

Mazza said that until recently, the governing Liberals supported him "100 per cent" and were "proud" of what Ornge was doing.

His testimony contradicts the government's claims that the publicly funded organization had gone rogue.

So Matthews needs to set the record straight, said NDP health critic France Gelinas.

"Right now, we have very much of a he said-she said," Gelinas added.

Matthews needs to explain why she never took briefings from Ornge and how she can claim she didn't know what was going on, given Mazza's testimony, Gelinas said.

It's more evidence that her ministry had many opportunities to rein in Ornge but failed to act, she said.

Matthews insists she was stonewalled by Ornge and has no reservations about getting back in the hot seat.

"Sure, of course I would," she said in an interview. "I've always said that I'd go back if they asked me back."

Asked why there was little oversight of Ornge, Premier Dalton McGuinty seemed to prefer looking forward than back, citing proposed new legislation that he says will tighten the leash on Ornge.

"I think we all need to ask ourselves where it is that we can take responsibility for what went wrong at Ornge," he said in Ottawa.

"And insofar as the government, we're taking responsibility for our share of this."

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