Former McGuinty aide was eHealth consultant
TORONTO - A former aide to Premier Dalton McGuinty was among the highly paid consultants who benefited from an untendered contract with eHealth Ontario, a provincial agency mired in a spending scandal, documents show.
Karli Farrow, a former adviser to McGuinty who works for the Courtyard Group, billed eHealth for 32.5 hours of consulting work in January -- amounting to $10,646 at her $327 hourly rate.
According to billing records, her tasks included corresponding about eHealth "priorities" with Don Guy, the premier's former chief of staff who is now president and CEO of polling firm Pollara.
Guy told the Toronto Star that neither he nor his firm did any work for eHealth, and while he received a letter from Farrow, he received no compensation for his advice.
Farrow, who is on maternity leave, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McGuinty, who has been dogged by questions about eHealth all week, wouldn't say whether he was aware of Farrow's work for the agency.
"I really do think we should allow the internal audit to be completed now, as well as the provincial auditor," he said after speaking at an Ottawa hospital.
"There are all kinds of things that come up, and I think we ought to introduce a little more light and a little less heat."
EHealth, the second provincial agency tasked with creating electronic health records, has ignited a political firestorm for awarding nearly $5 million in untendered contracts.
Opposition parties have accused eHealth of giving Liberal-friendly firms lucrative contracts without taking competitive bids.
Sarah Kramer was abruptly removed as president and CEO earlier this week amid the furor over eHealth, which allowed consultants who were paid about $2,700 a day to bill taxpayers for minor purchases like tea and snacks.
Courtyard Group was awarded untendered contracts worth about $2 million, according to documents obtained by the Progressive Conservatives under freedom of information laws.
Farrow was a health policy adviser to McGuinty and worked for former health minister George Smitherman, but left his office in 2007. The billing records were among the hundreds of documents obtained by the Tories.
McGuinty has so far rejected calls for Health Minister David Caplan's resignation over eHealth, but did acknowledge that the province should have kept a closer eye on the agency.
When asked who should have been responsible for putting more oversight in place, a testy McGuinty dodged the political hot potato.
"You know, there's a principle in court called asked and answered. And you can ask the same question over again but the judge wouldn't permit it," he said.
"I think the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances is to allow the auditor to complete his work."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is asking Auditor General Jim McCarter, who is investigating eHealth's practices, to start probing any and all contracts awarded to Courtyard by any government ministry or agency.
"We know that this consulting firm has dealings with the government and now we're finding out just exactly how close the people that work for that firm have been to the Liberals over the years," she said.
Both Caplan and McGuinty have insisted that no rules were broken in awarding the untendered contracts, which were allowed because of the "urgency" of eHealth's task -- even though the province's deadline for electronic health records is 2015.
McGuinty's mea culpa was just a "flimsy excuse" that doesn't explain why his government turned a blind eye as scarce taxpayer dollars were squandered at the agency, said interim Progressive Conservative leader Bob Runciman.
"Why was there insufficient oversight?" he said.
"I mean, this is a very important file for the government ... why wouldn't they be closely monitoring and watching it?"
EHealth was established last fall after the first provincial agency tasked with creating electronic health records, Smart Systems for Health, spent about $650 million but failed to produce anything of value before it was quietly shut down.
Government officials point out that tougher contract procurement rules have been in place at eHealth since late March. Deputy health minister Ron Sapsford -- who helped draft those rules -- has been installed as temporary CEO of eHealth.