Skip to main content

Deb Matthews speaks to the media following the swearing in of Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario's first female premier, on Feb. 11, 2013.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives say Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews bears some responsibility for a helicopter crash that killed four people a year ago.

The accusation comes a day after the federal government laid 17 charges against Ornge, the provincial air ambulance service, for allegedly allowing its employees to fly a helicopter they were not properly trained to operate.

It also lands in the middle of an election campaign, in which the PCs are locked in a tight battle with the Grits ahead of the June 12 vote.

Former Tory MPP Frank Klees, who led opposition attacks on the Grits over previous problems at Ornge, said in a statement that "failure on the part of" Ms. Matthews was "responsible for this tragic loss of life."

"The excuses and deflections of responsibility by the Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, will not be accepted," he said Saturday. "The offences cited in the 17 charges were committed under her watch and under the watch of senior executives and a board of directors she directly appointed."

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, commenting on the charges before Mr. Klees made his accusation, said she would not speak about the case itself, as it is before the courts, but offered condolences.

"There are many, many changes that have been made at Ornge over the last couple of years and we will continue to monitor the operations obviously very, very closely," she told reporters. "My heart goes out to the families of the four people who were killed."

Asked to respond to Mr. Klees's comments, the Liberal campaign replied with a written statement from Ms. Wynne on Friday saying the government took the charges at Ornge "very seriously."

Ms. Matthews cleaned house at the agency two years ago after a spending scandal, replacing executives and board members.

PC Leader Tim Hudak on Saturday said Ms. Matthews must provide "answers" on what is going on at Ornge.

"I would have thought it would have been fair to expect that Kathleen Wynne and Deb Matthews, considering the news that broke last night, considering the ongoing scandals around Ornge, would have come forward with some clarity as to what's actually happening there," he said while touring a hospital in St. Catharines. "I hope they're not trying to postpone this and skate past an election campaign."

The election campaign has at times taken a nasty tone. Earlier this month, Ms. Wynne suggested Mr. Hudak's proposed cuts to the civil service could have consequences as dire as the tainted water tragedy at Walkerton, during which seven people were killed in 2000 in part because the Tory government at the time had failed to oversee the proper testing of water.

The Ornge Sikorsky S-76A crashed shortly after takeoff on May 31, 2012. The helicopter had left Moosonee airport near James Bay, bound for Attawapiskat. Four Ornge employees were killed.

Ornge confirmed Friday it had received the federal government's summons related to the charges but would not comment while the matter was before court.