With alarm bells ringing about Ornge, McGuinty kept pressing snooze: NDP

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Ontario's NDP are accusing the Dalton McGuinty Liberals of being asleep at the switch when it came to Ornge.

In a press release issued Friday, the New Democrats claim that for years the Ontario government had numerous warning signs about the troubled air ambulance service but chose to do nothing about it.

One day after an all-party probe in to the matter wrapped up,  it's a theory that's hard to argue with.

The Ornge probe was launched late last year in response to allegations of a kickback scheme, exorbitant salaries and nepotism at a not-for-profit corporation tasked with managing Ontario's air-ambulance services by the Liberal government.

[ Related: More questions, few answers about air ambulance scandal ]

As chronicled by the Globe and Mail, Ornge went on to create a web of both not-for-profit and for-profit companies, with a lack of firewalls. It's alleged that the Orgne used public funds to purchase new helicopters from an Italian manufacturer, which then gave Ornge a contract for marketing services and made a donation to one of the charities it had set up.

In another bizarre series of events, Ornge reportedly purchased a building for its headquarters, then leased it to itself at an above-market rate.

There have also been suggestions that Ornge CEO Dr. Chris Mazza used air ambulance money to fund a consulting job for his water-ski-instructor-turned-girlfriend who eventually went on to become the company's associate vice-president.

In addition to the probe, the OPP has now launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

This past week, the legislative inquiry was presented with documents that proved whistleblowers, opposition parties and even bureaucrats had raised red flags for years that trouble was brewing at Ornge.

In 2010, management consulting firm Meyers Norris Penny warned the Ontario government about more than 26 issues relating to Ornge.

The report suggested that the government look into not-for-profit's highly questionable corporate structure, non-compliance with the Performance Agreement and inadequate reporting mechanisms. It also called attention to suspicious decisions made by Ornge's Board of Directors.

And, in June 2011, an internal ministry document warned that Ornge insiders appeared to have engaged in money transfers that have stripped value from the publicly funded service for the benefit of new, for-profit business ventures.

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Despite the warnings, however, the Liberals appear to have done nothing until late 2011 when the media picked up on the story.

"In the past couple of days we've heard testimony detailing nepotism, illegal lobbying, and million-dollar kickbacks," NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh said in the press release.

"These are words we associate with organized crime, not our healthcare system.

"[Health] Minister Matthews is responsible for failing to take any action on Ornge when well-connected insiders spent millions of healthcare dollar on themselves. The government never expressed any reservations about Ornge, never took any action to correct the problems, and never had any proper oversight over the organization. This is absolutely scandalous."

At the very least, the Liberals have a lot to answer to.