Arthur Porter, the former administrator who has been accused of allowing the McGill University Health Centre to slip into financial disarray, has fired back at his critics, explaining that he warned his overseers during his final years in Montreal that the majority of his time would be directed, not to the hospital, but to his many private businesses.
For months, Dr. Porter has not responded to numerous interview requests from several Canadian media outlets while scandal after scandal has erupted at Montreal's network of six English-speaking hospitals – an institution that he ran from 2004 to 2011. A special audit, ordered by the Quebec government and released in December, found that the hospital network's deficit had ballooned to a possible $115-million, and that over the past four years, the MUHC had paid for nearly 890,000 hours of unauthorized work "without any demonstrable benefit."
On Thursday, about 24 hours after announcing through a press release that he had been diagnosed with cancer, Dr. Porter spoke with a reporter from The Tribune, a newspaper in Nassau, where the 56-year-old oncologist resides and runs a private cancer clinic.
Dr. Porter told the newspaper that he was planning to leave the MUHC in 2010 after successfully negotiating a long-anticipated contract for a new $1.3-billion facility – the massive hospital that is being constructed by engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and is the subject of a corruption probe by Quebec police.
On Thursday, he told The Tribune: "I said [to the board], I will agree to stay on but understand the bulk of my time will be with my other businesses so please start looking for another CEO. They agreed."
Since the accusations of mismanagement surfaced in December, many officials close to the hospital have highlighted how frequently Dr. Porter was away tending to his numerous and varied businesses. Those many ventures include private clinics, African mines, the sale of radiotherapy equipment as well as a solar energy startup, among numerous other companies. He also accepted many corporate directorships and government appointments during his time in Montreal, including a post that was given to him by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – the chairmanship of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the group of civilians that is tasked with watching over Canada's spy agency, CSIS.
Officials with the MUHC were unable to respond to requests for comment about Dr. Porter's statements from Nassau. (Many members of the hospital's staff were attending the funeral of a former colleague Friday.) The current chairman of the hospital network, Claudio Bussandri, was part of a board committee that, Dr. Porter says, approved of all of his outside business pursuits.
Dr. Porter told the newspaper that the criticisms of his leadership were spurious, vindictive and designed to embarrass him because of his refusal to respond to Canadian media requests. He also said he created enemies through his self-described bulldozer-type will to push forward with the construction of the massive new hospital.
"I don't take prisoners and I get things done and maybe I wasn't the most popular guy because sometimes people's feelings do get hurt, but they wanted a hospital and they are going to get the world's best hospital," he told The Tribune.
Since his departure from Montreal, Quebec's anti-corruption task force has executed a search warrant on the MUHC's headquarters and charged two former executives with SNC-Lavalin with defrauding the hospital network in relation to the super-hospital deal. One of those executives, Riadh Ben Aissa, parted ways with the company in 2011 after an internal investigation at the company revealed that he had orchestrated the payment of $56-million in relation to two different SNC projects, monies that SNC has said it cannot trace.
Dr. Porter has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in relation to that deal. He told the Tribune that the contract was subject to much oversight by review teams. He estimated that more than 70 people reviewed the deal before awarding the contract to a consortium led by SNC.
He also attacked McGill University for launching a $317,000 lawsuit against him, after the university alleged that he had defaulted on a low-interest loan. He said the university knew and understood that he had used the money to purchase two condominiums and was surprised that it hadn't waited for him to sell both units.
The Tribune's story did not provide details on Dr. Porter's recent cancer diagnosis, except to report that it was "self-diagnosed" and that a biopsy had confirmed the tumour was malignant. He also told the reporter that his first day of radiation treatment was Thursday.