Opposition questions bids from former eHealth players
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks during question period at Queen's Park on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 7, 2011 6:38PM EDT
TORONTO - The Ontario Liberals are again on the defensive over eHealth, after it was revealed two executives once linked to the scandal-plagued agency were in the running for a lucrative new contract.
"It's as if Dalton McGuinty has found numerous ways to pay back his friends," said Progressive Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.
"It doesn't appear at all that the Liberal government cares about the appearance of a group that was handsomely paid to do work in a massive scandal may be paid again -- this doesn't pass the sniff test."
EHealth and Infrastructure Ontario said earlier this week that Telus Health Solutions GP and Maximus Canada had pre-qualified to bid for an upcoming contract to create a system that provides a secure record of patient medications.
But both Michael Guerriere and Dave Wattling of Courtyard Group are now part of Telus, which bought their former company.
A Telus spokesman said Thursday that neither man would be involved in the contract, noting that the people working on such projects are primarily those who have done similar systems in other provinces.
"There shouldn't be an issue, but recognizing that there may be, we've made sure that no former Courtyard employees will work on the project," said Jim Johannsson.
Telus has been working on health-care IT projects in Ontario for more than 20 years, Johannsson said, and is already deeply embedded in the province's health-care delivery system.
Courtyard was at the heart of the eHealth controversy two years ago. The scandal involved millions of dollars being given to consultants with ties to the Liberal government in the form of untendered contracts, as well as abuses of expense accounts at the agency.
Questionable expenses included allowing consultants who were paid up to $2,700 a day to bill taxpayers extra for minor purchases like tea and snacks.
Courtyard itself received around $2 million in untendered contracts.
The scandal eventually forced the resignation of a health minister, the agency's CEO and other key players.
Since then, eHealth has been working to rebuild, but questionable decisions keep overshadowing any progress. Most recently, there was an uproar over a plan for bonus pay for hundreds of bureaucrats at the agency despite a two-year wage freeze for public sector workers. The plan was later cancelled.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was concerned about the possible contract and the impact it may have on bringing electronic records online.
Six million Ontario residents now have access to electronic medical records. But implementation of the program has been delayed for years, prompting the Ontario Medical Association on Wednesday to urge all political parties move past the scandal and make electronic records an election priority.
"Confidence is reduced when we see the same players that were at the heart of the scandal a couple of years ago," said Horwath.
"Are we just setting ourselves up for a maintenance of the same kind of culture of disrespect for the value of health dollars?"
The government said the procurement process has been independent and transparent, noting Telus and Maximus were two out of only three vendors that indicated an interest.
One company did not qualify, and the process is still in the early stages. No contract has yet been awarded.
"What I find troubling is that people are trying to politicize moving forward with a very important component of eHealth; to get our drug management system up and running is vitally important," said Health Minister Deb Matthews.
"If the suggestion of the opposition is that we should disqualify any company who ever had any employee work at whatever company they choose, I reject that."