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Former eHealth CEO travels in style on taxpayers' dime Add to ...

The ousted CEO of scandal-plagued eHealth Ontario travelled in style on the taxpayers' dime, billing repeatedly for limousine rides, while members of the agency's board were reimbursed for flights from as far away as Florida to attend meetings in Toronto.

After weeks of watching details trickle out about spending and expense abuses at eHealth, the Liberal government on Wednesday released hundreds of pages of receipts, day-planners, meeting minutes and other documents from the troubled agency.

The government wanted to be as transparent as possible, said Health Minister David Caplan, so it released all of the documents at one time. But the opposition parties accused him of trying to bury the story under mountains of paper.

"I think it's in the public's interest for us to be transparent and accountable, and that's why we're handing out the information in an open and unaltered way," Caplan said in an interview.

However, the New Democrats dismissed Mr. Caplan's explanation.

"They're trying to flood everyone with information with the hopes the whole smelly mess will go away sooner rather than later, and I don't think the people of Ontario are going to buy that," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

EHealth CEO Sara Kramer resigned in June, as did board chair Alan Hudson, after the opposition parties complained about $5-million in untendered contracts awarded to consultants by eHealth, a figure that has since grown to about $15-million.

Six large binders of documents released Wednesday show eHealth, and its predecessor agency Smart Systems for Health, spent nearly $82-million on consultants in 2007 and 2008. It's not clear how many of the contracts were awarded without competitive bidding.

"It keeps growing and growing," Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said.

"I worry this is just the tip of the iceberg of the McGuinty government growing far too comfortable and far too fat in office."

The papers show Ms. Kramer billed for limo rides whenever she travelled for eHealth, including one $400 ride from Toronto to London, along with seeking reimbursement for meals at expensive restaurants.

EHealth board member Khalil Barsoum billed taxpayers nearly $2,400 for a round-trip flight from Florida, car rentals and road tolls to attend a board meeting in Toronto.

"This kind of abuse of taxpayers' dollars is outrageous and I want to know whose head is going to roll," Mr. Hudak said.

"To have someone flown back and forth to board meetings is the height of entitlement and that really is outrageous," Mr. Horwath added.

EHealth said Wednesday it will try to lower the travel expenses by holding future meetings when Mr. Barsoum is in Toronto, but Mr. Caplan said the board would no longer approve the out-of-country travel claim.

"I've been assured that, moving forward, the board member's travel expenses from Florida will no longer be reimbursed," Mr. Caplan said.

Another board member who lives in Ottawa, Heather Sherrard, is reimbursed for flying back and forth to Toronto to attend eHealth meetings, while Toronto-based board member Michael Decter billed for $10 cab rides to and from meetings, which he is paid $380 to attend, and another $380 for preparation time.

Both opposition parties are angry with the government for cancelling a promised third-party review of eHealth by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which Caplan had promised would "provide us with the proper advice, guidance and recommendations."

"I think we understand now why the Liberals quietly dropped the PriceWaterhouseCoopers review in the dog days of summer," Mr. Hudak said after the eHealth documents were released.

"Somebody's head's gotta roll. The minister has to go."

The New Democrats also called for Mr. Caplan's head over the eHealth scandal, in which it was also revealed that consultants being paid $2,700 a day billed taxpayers extra for snacks and beverages.

"The stench of this scandal continues to grow and the government has done nothing to put it at the feet of the minister, which is where it should have been," Mr. Horwath said.

EHealth Ontario was set up last September to replace Smart Systems for Health, which had spent $650-million trying to create electronic health records, but produced virtually nothing of value.

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