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.
Mr. Caplan failed to provide proper oversight of eHealth, despite the fact its predecessor agency spent $650-million but produced virtually nothing of value, charged the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats.
"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," said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak. "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 claim that the minister hadn't met with eHealth officials for eight months after it was created, and insisted the agency was one of the minister's top priorities.
The New Democrats 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," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
The Liberal government created eHealth last September from the ashes of Smart Systems for Health, the first provincial agency tasked with 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, said the opposition parties, 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 was concerned by the "sense of entitlement" displayed at eHealth and worried that Courtyard's agreements were "just the tip of the iceberg" when it came to untendered contracts for consultants.
"These types of 'you scratch my back I'll scratch yours' connections with Liberal-friendly consultants is an outrageous abuse of tax dollars and I suspect is 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 said.
EHealth CEO Sara Kramer and board chairman Dr. 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 claims that it has close ties to the Liberal government, received $10.5 million in untendered contracts from eHealth between last September and June 2009.
Founding partner Michael Guerriere and several others at Courtyard billed $393.10 an hour, or $3,164 a day, including John Ronson, chairman of the Liberals' 1995 election campaign. Another Courtyard adviser, Karli Farrow, who once worked for Premier Dalton McGuinty and deputy premier George Smitherman, billed eHealth $327 an hour.
Miyo Yamashita, Guerriere's wife, is managing partner of Anzen Consulting, which received almost $1.7 million in untendered contracts from eHealth. Yamashita came under fire for billing $300 an hour to read newspapers, have phone calls with herself and consult her husband.
Accenture was given untendered contracts worth almost $1.9 million, but the Conservatives complained the company's bills list specific hours of work without saying what work was done during those hours.
"There's clearly evidence of a government that's grown far too comfortable in office and treats tax dollars as their own," Mr. Hudak said.
"There's this sense that it doesn't really matter, that it's government money," Ms. Horwath agreed.
"It's not government money, it's our money, it's taxpayers' money."
Premier Dalton McGuinty apologized in June for the scandal at eHealth, and changed procurement rules for all provincial ministries and agencies to require competitive bidding.
Consultants weren't the only ones at eHealth living large on the taxpayers' dime, according to the documents released by the government.
Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, before she resigned from her $380,000-a-year job as CEO in June. She was given a $317,000 severance package and received a $114,000 bonus after just months on the job.
EHealth board member Khalil Barsoum billed taxpayers nearly $2,400 for a round-trip flight from Florida and car rentals to attend a board meeting in Toronto.
The Tories and New Democrats are anxiously awaiting the findings of the auditor general, who has been looking into eHealth, especially since the government quietly cancelled a promised outside review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Auditor general James McCarter's report on eHealth is expected in September, just as the legislature resumes sitting.
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