Agencies, boards, commissions recipe for disaster
The Queen’s Park committee hearings into the Ornge scandal underscore how urgent it is that Ontario stop creating agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) and rein in the 600+ now in existence.
Former CEO Chris Mazza’s testimony proves this. His 2006 compensation at the agency was $284,000 but ballooned to $2.6 million in the most recent year. He got his girlfriend hired, who rose to become a junior executive and board member. He took a seemingly interest-free loan from an arm of Ornge for $500,000 that he used for a home purchase. The list goes on.
But what’s equally damning are Mazza’s comments giving us a window to how ABC CEOs view their relationship to the government.
First, the problem of oversight. Everyone claims they had no idea about the fiscal follies yet those who benefited from them claim everyone else OK’d them. “All executive compensation was a board decision,” he says, and the government supported the board. Despite the fact his board member girlfriend denied knowledge of Mazza’s compensation. The NDP is also recalling Health Minister Deb Matthews to the committee, as her previous testimony contradicts Mazza’s.
So who is to blame? No one, apparently. Everyone involved just waits for the media sensation to wear off, then returns to their dressing rooms to gussy up for next year’s scandal.
Second is what I’d call “the expert’s lament”. That’s the idea that if you don’t have particular expertise in the project’s subject then you have no place criticizing it. So of course us simple taxpayers have no place challenging Mazza because we just don’t understand.
“We can do this because we’re first movers in this and people don’t understand that. We’re the only group on a global basis that understands that transport medicine is an economic efficiency for health care” and “We’re the only ones who have had the ability to get our heads around that.” That was Mazza rationalizing the importance of Ornge even in the wake of the scandal. We’re first. People don’t understand. We’re the only ones. He expects professional exceptionalism to place him above scrutiny.
“At no point did we become a rogue organization,” Mazza said. I hate to break it to the heads of ABCs, but Ornge was a rogue organization from Day 1. They’re all set up that way. They are arms-length entities that act like private corporations, yet are entirely underwritten by the taxpayer.
Politicians love ABCs because they grant them the best of both worlds.
ABCs act at arms-length from the government. Because of this, politicians can weasel out of taking responsibility for any improprieties. “How was I supposed to know? It’s practically a separate organization. They have an office at the other end of town!” That’s what you say when the problems rise to the surface.
But of course when things are going well, you can claim the successes for yourself. “This agency falls under my ministry’s jurisdiction. My government funded it!” How convenient.
It allows, for example, successive health ministers to claim they didn’t know what was going on at eHealth and Ornge.
If a task is so vital for government to take on, then take it on. Make it a part of a ministry. Make the minister responsible. To this day, there has never been a sufficient explanation given as to why eHealth couldn’t have been accomplished in-house.
If the air ambulance service was as economically viable and groundbreaking as Mazza claimed, then a private operator should have fronted the development monies and got the company off the ground. Then the government could have contracted out the services and the company would have been responsible for looking out for their own bottom line.
In the last election, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak offered a start to solving ABC troubles. He promised to look into all of them and disband a few. But we can do more. The legislative threshold for creating new ones seems far too low. The possibility for abuse is too high. We can’t let lazy politicians get away with having the best of both worlds anymore.
The Liberal government gave Ornge $730 million of your money over five years. It also gave them a $300 million loan. That’s over a billion dollars. Tell your MPP enough is enough.