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Chris Mazza, former CEO of Ornge. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Chris Mazza, former CEO of Ornge. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

EXCLUSIVE

The former CEO of Ornge breaks his silence Add to ...

Ornge was starting to jell on several fronts, he felt. Even so, “we had a sustainability problem, a service-gap problem, and we were told we couldn’t use provincial grant money to capitalize for-profit initiatives. So what do we do?”

One answer was to sell Ornge’s expertise to other jurisdictions. “What we had was unparalleled on a global basis,” he said. “It was a moving hospital. The vast majority of other services are still mired in scoop-and-run.”

He convinced AW that Ornge could help it expand in the U.S. market. But that was the limit of his role in the subsequent, controversial, allegedly self-serving agreement, he said; others negotiated the details.

As for his relationship with Kelly Long, he said, he began seeing her (and disclosed that to the company) four years after she was hired and after she had become an associate vice-president. “I was never involved in moving her forward or in hiring her. She never reported to me,” he said. As for the way she was “denigrated as ‘a waitress and a water-ski instructor,’ ” he added, those were side jobs she had had while earning her MBA and teaching.

Finally, it was reported that Dr. Mazza received three interest-free loans from Ornge Global, one of its for-profit entities. He said there was only one loan, for $450,000, and it was neither unsecured nor interest-free. The other moneys were parts of bonuses and incentive plans.

“The complexity created confusion from which I have suffered. In hindsight, with respect to the loan, I should have gone directly to the bank instead.”

If everything he did was wrong, he asked, why did his appointed successor, Ron McKerlie, say, less than four months later “that everything was wonderful at Ornge? Aviation medicine is an exceedingly complex axis. It’s not something you fix in a few months if it’s broken.”

Despite his tribulations, Dr. Mazza said he still believes that the public impulse can be successfully married to the profit motive, though “it needs to be accepted first that government can’t solve every problem.

“You can’t curse government for having a deficit, vote for no tax increases, and then say ‘I want my MRI next week.’ That’s an oxymoron.”

Today, he lives in a rented Toronto apartment, remains close to his former wife and spends as much time as possible with his two children, Katie and Matthew. His recovery, he said, is focused “on the holistic healing of my mind, body and spirit,” incorporating running, meditation, yoga and healthy eating.

After the past year’s relentless media and political fusillade, he said, “my spirit has been crushed, my confidence shattered, my family shattered. I have to find a way to trust the world again. I did not do this alone. I had ideas. People said they were good ideas and then the wind changed.

“What’s my future? I don’t know. … So yeah, I guess in the end, they got me.”

CHRIS MAZZA IN HIS OWN DEFENCE

On the creation of for-profit companies at Ornge:

All the equity owners signed pledge agreements gifting back all future dividends to the public side of Ornge. I would only have benefited personally from a monetization event – say, we sold a company to Oman – and only then after Ornge and the private investors had taken their share. I had no vote on any of this. I was not a director of any of the boards. Ornge would have derived additional revenues “selling” excess capacity in IT, finance and communications to the for-profit businesses. You’d be leveraging assets already paid for and charging full price, which would flow back and decrease costs to Ontario.

On Ornge’s acquisition of AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters:

I resisted buying a new fleet. I didn’t have a choice. If we’d gone to the private sector to change the [leased] fleet, it would have cost half a billion dollars, because they want a return. The cost of capital to them was 25 per cent. Mine, 5.7 per cent. So they were very angry. More than 25 per cent of their profits came from return on capital. We’d been paying for that fleet a long time. …

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