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Ontario's Opposition up in arms over latest eHealth billing data Add to ...

More details are emerging about what critics have called shocking spending excesses by consultants and executives at eHealth Ontario, adding fuel to opposition demands for Health Minister David Caplan's resignation.

The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats charge Mr. Caplan failed to provide proper oversight of eHealth, even though its predecessor agency spent $650-million but produced virtually nothing of value.

"The best way to get to the bottom of this, quite frankly, is for the minister to step down and a new minister be appointed to clean up this mess," Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said. "If I were premier and the minister hadn't resigned by now, I'd fire him on the spot."

Mr. Caplan's office dismissed Mr. Hudak's assertion that the minister hadn't met with eHealth officials for eight months after the agency was created, and insisted it was one of his top priorities.

The NDP said there was little evidence Mr. Caplan paid any attention to eHealth.

"There's been a complete lack of oversight, and that's been a part of why we've been calling on the Premier to do the right thing and remove the Health Minister," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

The Liberal government created eHealth last September from the ashes of Smart Systems for Health, a provincial agency given the task of creating electronic health records for Ontario residents.

Consultants who were contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day were also allowed to bill taxpayers for return flights from Alberta, car rentals and parking, furnished suites in downtown Toronto and a $75 per diem to cover laundry and other incidentals.

To make matters worse, the opposition parties said, eHealth provided the out-of-town consultants with workspace, computers, phones and office support in addition to the lucrative contracts.

"There's no doubt about the fact this whole mess just stinks of entitlement and greed and a lack of understanding of the value of our precious health-care dollars," Ms. Horwath said.

Consultant Allaudin Merali was paid $57,750 for 21 days of work in December - he billed seven days a week, but only half days ($1,375) for Sundays - and was reimbursed another $10,000 for his expenses that month. Mr. Merali's bills climbed to an average of $76,000 a month in January through March, 2009, including $24,000 for flights between Edmonton and Toronto.

Another Alberta-based consultant, Donna Strating, billed eHealth $40,000 for 15 days last December, including time spent reading reports on the three days before her contract took effect. Ms. Strating's billings climbed to about $66,000 a month in January through March, and included such things as $1.65 for a cup of tea.

Mr. Hudak said he is concerned by the "sense of entitlement" at eHealth and worries Courtyard's agreements were "just the tip of the iceberg" for untendered contracts for consultants.

"These types of 'you scratch my back I'll scratch yours' connections with Liberal-friendly consultants are an outrageous abuse of tax dollars and I suspect are widespread throughout other [Ontario]government ministries," Mr. Hudak said.

"I'm concerned about to what extent this eHealth scenario has been playing out in other ministries and other provincial agencies," Ms. Horwath added.

EHealth CEO Sara Kramer and board chairman Alan Hudson both resigned in June after the opposition parties complained about $5-million in untendered contracts awarded to consultants, a figure that has grown to about $16-million since the documents were released.

The Courtyard Group, which denies opposition assertions that it has close ties to the Liberal government, received $10.5-million in untendered contracts from eHealth between last September and June, 2009.

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