McGuinty rejects call for eHealth public inquiry
Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty says his government will not be launching a public inquiry into the eHealth affair.
"We will not be moving ahead with a public inquiry," McGuinty said Tuesday following an event at Hamilton's Mohawk College. "The opposition has a different take on this and I understand that."
He said the government intends to move forward by implementing the recommendations contained in Auditor General Bob McCarter's 50-page report issued Oct. 7.
Tim Hudak, leader of the official opposition, called for an independent public inquiry into Ontario's eHealth scandal after the report found about $1 billion in taxpayer funds were spent on the electronic health records initiative with few tangible results.
"The auditor's report was filled with examples of bid rigging and price fixing, and that borders on criminal behaviour, so we must get to the bottom of why this took place and who benefited," Hudak said.
"We know this government will not give up its dirty secrets willingly."
But McCarter said in his report that there was no evidence of fraud or other criminal activity. Nor did partisan politics appear to play a role in the awarding of contracts, although McCarter did say there was evidence of favouritism.
"The auditor notes favouritism played a role in awarding untendered contracts, and rigging the rules even around some tendered contracts," Hudak said. "That merits further investigation (because) one person's favouritism is another person's political ties."
Hudak said a public inquiry would resolve many of the unanswered questions surrounding the eHealth controversy.
Hudak said the auditor general noted in his report that government officials obstructed his probe in a few instances and that such a "potentially massive abuse of power" demands an independent probe.
The auditor general does not have the mandate or the resources to answer questions about how the Liberal government was able to hire Liberal-friendly consultants through untendered contracts, he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Howarth also favoured additional investigation into eHealth.
"When we spend that much money of our cherished health-care dollars, and at the same time people are losing local health services, we have a right to demand answers in as vigorous a way as possible," she said.
"I think the government should be open to any kind of mechanism . . . whether that's a public inquiry or a criminal investigation."
McCarter wrote: "In addition, we were aware of the allegations that 'party politics' may have entered into the awarding of contracts and that those awarding the contracts may have obtained a personal benefit from the firms getting the work -- but we saw no evidence of this during our work."
The auditor general found that former eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer had reportedly been told there were serious problems at eHealth and she wanted to build her own team -- " people she had worked with in the past or whom she personally recruited" -- rather than rely on the ministry, SSHA staff or their consultants.
"In our opinion, the CEO's prior relationships with a number of the firms and individuals were one of the factors in her hiring and procurement decisions, and this does constitute favouritism," McCarter wrote.
The media reported on about $16 milion worth of untendered eHealth contracts given to consultants, The Canadian Press has reported. McCarter said about two-thirds of consultants' contracts were sole-sourced.
The McGuinty government has moved to end the practice of issuing contracts without tender.
Hudak said an inquiry would take a close look at former Liberal health minister George Smitherman and the role he played while overlooking the initiative that eventually formed the eHealth Ontario agency.
The NDP and Tories would like to see Smitherman become the next political casualty of the scandal.
eHealth is the result of a merger between the Ontario ministry of health's electronic program and the Smart Systems for Health Agency. eHealth was created with a mandate to create an online database of health records for all Ontario patients by 2015. However, McCarter found SSHA accounted for about $800 million of the $1 billion spent.
Smitherman currently serves in cabinet as deputy premier and minister of energy and infrastructure. David Caplan took over the role of health minister in June 2008, the same year eHealth was created.
Caplan resigned from his post in the wake of a report by the province's auditor general which found a lack of government oversight for the problems plaguing eHealth.
With a report by CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and files from The Canadian Press