Opposition says Caplan's resignation long overdue
The province's opposition leaders say the resignation of Health Minister David Caplan shows the government is finally doing the right thing after months of damning details about waste and mismanagement at eHealth Ontario.
"You don't ever relish this sort of thing happening, but it was necessary and it was long overdue," Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday night.
"Only after (Premier) Dalton McGuinty got backed into a corner with an auditor general's report tomorrow did the right thing happen."
Auditor General Jim McCarter is to unveil the results of his investigation into wasteful spending and untendered contracts at eHealth Ontario, the agency charged with the responsibility for putting the medical records of Ontarians online.
That report is to be made public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Caplan was to provide the government's reaction at 12:30 p.m., but the government now says Premier Dalton McGuinty will be handling that news conference.
The opposition has been calling for Caplan's head for months, but when he shuffled his cabinet in June, McGuinty didn't move or remove Caplan, saying he didn't hold his minister to blame for eHealth's problems.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she didn't want the resignation to overshadow the report.
"I think it's obvious that tomorrow's report is going to be a scathing one. That's why the minister resigned," she said. "He decided to fall on his sword tonight to reduce the impact tomorrow."
Horwath said Caplan's resignation was a "small first step this premier is taking towards finally holding a cabinet minister responsible."
However, what Ontarians really want is to see their "precious health care dollars" spent wisely, she said.
Since 2002, when the Progressive Conservatives were in power, the government has spent about $1 billion on the electronic medical records file with little to show for it.
eHealth Ontario came into being in the fall of 2008, replacing the Smart Systems for Health Agency that spent about $650 million. Caplan -- MPP for Toronto's Don Valley East riding -- became health minister in June 2008. He replaced George Smitherman, who became energy and infrastructure minister.
Early in the new year, the Tories started digging into eHealth using freedom of information requests, leading to a series of revelations this spring. Those culminated with the resignations first of eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer, then Dr. Allan Hudson, its chair.
On June 17, the same day Hudson left, McGuinty announced new rules ending the issuing of sole-sourced contracts for hiring consultants and controlling what they can bill for expenses. Many were outraged that consultants billing for thousands of dollars per day were seeking reimbursement for coffee and snacks.
The bad news didn't stop for the McGuinty government through the early fall.
Paul Bliss, CTV Toronto's Queen's Park bureau chief, said that his sources are telling him the report will point a finger at the Ministry of Health and not just eHealth, which is an arm's-length agency.
The ministry had its own e-records team, and its operations were a mess. In 2008, the team had 300 consultants and only 30 full-time employees. One consultant was allowed to award $1.3 million in deals to a firm with which he was associated.
Upon receiving two bids for the same project -- one for $60,000, the other for $600,000 -- the ministry selected the priciest bid without explanation or documentation.
One consultant billed almost $500,000 for work done before the start of the contract. Others had approval given for working statutory holidays from home when that isn't the norm.
Bliss has previously said a source told him McCarter had reached two explosive conclusions:
- allegations of favouritism surrounding the awarding of contracts were true
- about two-thirds of all contracts issued were sole-sourced
With Caplan gone, talk will quickly turn to a cabinet shuffle. Bliss said if he had to bet, he suspects Attorney General Chris Bentley will take over the portfolio, which accounts for almost half of all government spending.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss