The Dalton McGuinty Liberal government has quietly dropped an independent review of eHealth Ontario, notwithstanding that government’s promise that PriceWaterhouseCoopers would look into procurement practices at the scandal-plagued provincial agency and report back this summer.
Last Friday, according to The Canadian Press, Health Minister David Caplan wrote a letter to eHealth’s chair agreeing to a request from the agency to drop the PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ review, because it would duplicate the work of Ontario’s Auditor General Jim McCarter—the Auditor General’s report is due in September.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, however, was quick to point out that the Liberals announced the outside review knowing that the auditor general was doing his own investigation. “… I think this shows that it was a sham process to try to protect the minister’s job in the first place,” Hudak said.
eHealth Ontario is the provincial agency, which is tasked with creating an electronic health record system. The agency came under fire earlier this summer over nearly $5 million doled out in untendered contracts during the first months after its creation in September 2008.
Back then, CBC News reported:
“an intricate web of connections between eHealth and at least two of the consulting firms—Accenture Inc. and Courtyard Group—that were granted more than $3.3 million in contracts never subjected to competitive bids as the agency was first set up.”
CBC News also noted that it was told:
“that some senior officials in the Health Ministry opposed the appointment of Sarah Kramer as eHealth CEO on the grounds that she wasn’t qualified to run the $2-billion agency.”
Readers may remember that both CEO Sarah Kramer and Chair of the Board of Directors Dr. Alan Hudson resigned from eHealth because of the scandal, but the opposition parties still want McGuinty to fire Health Minister David Caplan for his incompetent handling of the affair.
Here are a few of the scandalous revelations supporting opposition calls for Caplan’s removal:
- Kramer was paid a salary of $380,000 and received a $114,000 bonus only five months after her start date.
- The $114,000 bonus the chairman of the board approved for Kramer was double the permitted rate. eHealth’s regulations permit bonuses ranging from zero to 15 per cent of salary—Kramer’s bonus represented about 30 per cent of her salary.
- Kramer spent $51,500 on office furniture.
- two of eHealth’s senior VPs were consultants who commuted to Toronto on a regular basis from their homes in Alberta, at a cost of $1.5 million a year for flights, salary, accommodation and per diems.
Another consultant, who charged $300 an hour, billed the agency for reading a New York Times article, reviewing Kramer’s holiday voicemail greeting and a debriefing that took place during a chat on the Toronto subway system.
The agency hired Kramer’s executive assistant for $213 per hour, or about $1,700 a day.
Ordinarily I’d applaud Premier McGuinty and his inept health minister, David Caplan, for saving taxpayers the estimated $300,000 an independent review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers would have cost, but I trust neither of these men. The shenanigans at eHealth occurred right under the nose of the minister of health and so far Dalton McGuinty has let him off the hook.
They already knew that the auditor general was doing his own investigation when they announced the outside review, so why make the promise? And why drop the independent review now?
Something about this smells—perhaps it’s the fishy business going on at Queen’s Park.