03/22/2012 02:45 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

We Can't Let the ORNGE Scandal Burn


The impropriety at Ontario's air ambulance service ORNGE hurts Ontario.

It hurts because it involved varying degrees of deception, excess, and ineffectiveness. It hurts because a few greedy individuals degraded and disrupted a valuable public service. But another, less noted reason why ORNGE's transgressions hurt, is because the hyperbolists of the ORGNE episode have created a frenzied political environment, thus distracting the public from more important policy challenges and potentially stifling needed policy innovation.

We need to lay-off. The pound of flesh has been had, with the firing of the CEO, the termination of the entire board, the bringing in of the OPP, AG, and forensic accountants, and the creation of new legislation. The government has expressed regret. It has taken action.

Let's remember that ORNGE -- whose budget represents one tenth of one per cent of the government's budget -- is an arm's length agency. It was a company led by a dynamic leader, offering competitive wages, making big investments in employees. ORNGE was seeking private capital, joint ventures, diversification, and foreign markets. ORNGE, in its design, was a grand experiment in 21st-century public policy. The government was taking a step back, non-government actors were taking a step forward, and new management and service delivery systems were emerging.

Did the experiment work? We now know it did not. But does that mean that risk-taking should be stricken from government, which may be the logical result of endless and intense scrutiny from the media? I sincerely hope not.

In the coming years, government will need to be innovative in order to drive quality while containing costs. Inherent in innovation is risk and failure. Yet, if we always demand a minister's report when something doesn't work, if we assume an isolated incident represents mass mismanagement, if we implement sweeping recommendations every time something smells funny, then the innovation agenda will quickly perish, and the quality of our public services will soon follow.