Opposition parties were fuming Wednesday after learning a promised independent review of scandal-plagued eHealth Ontario had been quietly dropped by the Liberal government last week.
The government had said PriceWaterhouseCoopers would look into procurement practices at the provincial agency, which is working to create electronic health records for Ontario residents, and would report back this summer.
However, last Friday Health Minister David Caplan wrote a letter to eHealth's new chair agreeing to a request from the agency to drop the outside review, saying it would duplicate the work of Ontario's auditor general.
The request first came from Auditor-General Jim McCarter, said Mr. Caplan, who noted the opposition parties complained when it was first announced an outside consultant would be brought in to look at eHealth along with Mr. McCarter's office.
"[Mr. McCarter]dvised the board that his scope was going to cover all of the elements that were not previously covered, and he felt this was a duplication," Mr. Caplan said in an interview.
"The board advised me and I was clear with them to follow the direction of the auditor."
Premier Dalton McGuinty is obviously worried about more bad news emerging from eHealth and is stalling the inevitable by cancelling the outside review, charged NDP critic Peter Kormos.
"Clearly Mr. McGuinty and the government are very apprehensive about any more revelations about eHealth and their abuse of taxpayers' money," Mr. Kormos said.
"By shutting down the PriceWaterhouseCoopers review, the government has bought itself more time, and may well have avoided revelations that the auditor will not be able to make because of the limits of his investigative ability."
Mr. Caplan called the NDP's accusation "utter nonsense" and said the auditor general "has unfettered authority as a legislative officer and Mr. Kormos well knows that."
The Liberals announced the outside review knowing that the auditor general was doing his own investigation, said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
"So I think this shows that it was a sham process to try to protect the minister's job in the first place," Mr. Hudak said.
"This is an ongoing mess and the minister really has no choice given the ongoing scandals at eHealth but to step down. And if he doesn't, Dalton McGuinty should fire him."
Mr. McGuinty has already apologized for the spending scandal at eHealth, which included $5-million in untendered contracts and expense abuses by consultants who were being paid $2,700 a day and still billing taxpayers for snacks and beverages.
The health ministry said dropping the independent review would save taxpayers' money, and noted the government has already introduced new procurement rules for all agencies and ministries, the same practices the review would have looked into.
Mr. Kormos wasn't buying that argument.
"For David Caplan or Mr McGuinty to talk about saving taxpayers' money after the shakedown by the eHealth consultant gangsters, is absolutely outrageous," Mr. Kormos said.
The CEO of eHealth and the chair of its board of directors both resigned because of the scandal, but the opposition parties still want Mr. McGuinty to fire Mr. Caplan for his handling of the problems.
The report from Mr. McCarter is not due until September, while the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report was supposed to be released earlier.
EHealth was set up last fall to replace Smart Systems for Health, another provincial agency that spent $650-million trying to develop electronic health records, but failed to produce anything of value.
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